Purple Kitty’s title sorta suggests cuddly, fluffy, giggle a minute, girl’s night in, pink pyjamas, comedy crime*. That couldn’t be further from the reality of this dystopian private eye investigation, set in an oppressive future a few decades down the line. Gumshoe Serena McKay isn’t your typical ‘strong female protagonist’, either. Normally, the average crime-solving chick is sassy and sexy with a few sharp edges. McKay is all about the sharp edges: she’s been honed to lethal efficiency by a short lifetime of almost overwhelming brutality.
Serena McKay has been abused, humiliated, tormented and degraded, first as a child, then when training to be a police officer, and even again after making the grade as a law enforcement officer. She takes on lost causes and hopeless cases which inevitably force her to confront head-on the callous establishment and its misogynist operatives. She knows exactly what it’s like to suffer abduction and rape, because she’s survived multiple episodes of each. She’s battered and bruised; angry and broken – yet somehow still in touch with her humanity and possessed of an overwhelming imperative to see justice done.
Oh, and she has an extra-special ‘something’ up her sleeve; a mild detour into the arena of paranormal abilities which I thoroughly enjoyed. The device wasn’t overused and slotted neatly into the author’s off-kilter near-future.
In fact, there’s a lot about Purple Kitty which I enjoyed: the plausible and slightly sinister evolution of American society. The clean and uncluttered use of language which kept the chapters flowing freely. The gradual reveal of McKay’s tormented back story, interspersed with her missing-child investigation. The growing insidious threat from the shadows which produced a rising sense of tension – the closer McKay comes to solving this case, the nearer she gets to confronting one of the appalling demons from her past.
I did feel that the pro-female vibe veered into anti-male at times, however. I am that woman who thrives in what’s described as a man’s world, and I typically encounter over-the-top courtesy rather than outright misogyny. I suspect that male readers may feel unfairly tarred with an unpleasant brush – I felt pretty defensive on behalf of all the guys who don’t patronise, bully or abuse. However, I fully appreciate this is fiction, and the author’s hammering home her point about deep-seated bigotry which is so firmly rooted in some institutions that it’s almost invisible.
I’m also uncertain about the title – the purple kitty itself isn’t pivotal to the core story and a different title might’ve been less at odds with the novel’s hard-hitting and entirely adult themes.
I am, however, extremely keen to read the next Serena McKay story to find out what happens. Throughout this book I truly did not know what was going to happen, or what direction the story was travelling in. With so many identikit ‘thrillers’ on the market which painfully plod through all the usual conventions, it was delightful to be genuinely surprised by Serena’s story.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Purple Kitty by Chariss K Walker is available as an ebook or paperback
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*Could be worse. Who else remembers a certain pioneering website, ‘Persian Kitty’, back in the day of dial-up…?