Monday, October 6, 2014

Cozy Mystery Blog Tour: Author Guest Post, Review & Giveaway: Literally Murder (Black Cat Bookshop Mystery #4) by Ali Brandon

From her Brooklyn bookstore, Darla Pettistone not only sells mysteries, but solves them, aided by her big-boned black cat, Hamlet—who has suddenly pounced into the spotlight after unleashing his fists of furry…  

After a video of Darla and Hamlet performing at a martial arts tournament goes viral, the Florida chapter of the Feline Society of America invites the "Karate Kitty” to be the guest of honor at their championship cat show in Fort Lauderdale.

Upon arrival, Darla discovers that not everyone in the Sunshine State has a sunny disposition. Animal rights activists are on the march, and a cat show contestant stages his own angry protest when his special breed Minx—half Sphynx, half Manx—doesn’t win. Then Hamlet disappears—only to be found next to the dead body of the Minx owner. Now it’s up to Darla and Hamlet to take best in show and collar the killer. 

Another Cat on the Cover
by Ali Brandon

Since I first began writing cozy mysteries a few years back, I've been closely listening to readers of that genre as they discuss their likes... and, occasionally, their dislikes.  But get even more specific and start talking about animal mysteries, and you've got a whole new set of "pet" peeves to air.  And the loudest complaint has to do with cats on book covers.  

Confused?  Let me explain.  

Readers are well aware of the visual shorthand employed by book cover artists as far as genre fiction.  The cover has a bare-chested hunk on it, and chances are it's romance.  Lots of black, maybe a splash of blood or a weapon, and you've got a thriller.  And when it comes to cozy mysteries, the universal symbol - even more identifiable than the silhouetted female on the ladies room door - seems to be a cat.  

Most readers logically assume that a feline on the cover means a cat between the covers, too.  Unfortunately, such isn't always the case... and that misunderstanding can lead to lots of hissing and spitting on the part of cat mystery fans!  

For, unless you've been hanging out in the Self-Help aisle at your bookstore all these years, you know that cat mystery series abound.  They pretty well commenced decades ago with the "Cat Who..." books, and they continue to this day with no sign of abating.  Cat mystery readers are never happier than when they've stumbled across a brand new series featuring yet another fuzzy, purring protagonist.  

But let them buy a book with a cat on the cover, only to discover the storyline is feline-free, and the claws come out!  They feel cheated, sold a bill of goods!  And, sadly, the hapless author (who likesly had little influence on the cover) will ever after suffer the brunt of the cat readers' wrath, no matter that he/she wasn't responsible for this kitty bait-and-switch.  

Almost as egregious is when the cute tabby on the cover does show up in the story, but only in a couple of scenes.  Your cat mystery readers will tell you that it's obvious the cat was basically shoehorned into the book just to help sell a few more copies.  Woe unto the author who made that token cat mistake.  He or she will be talked about in unpleasant terms on every cat lovers discussion sites for years to come.  

Yes, cat readers take their feline literature seriously.  So what, then, transforms a cozy mystery into an actual cat mystery?  Very simply, it requires that a feline take an active role in solving the various crimes that are happening in that book.  

These cat sleuths, in turn, fall into one of two different categories: a) Talking Critter or b) Realistic Animal.  (The designation is mine... ask your local bookseller where to find the Talking Critter section, and she'll point you right back to "Self-Help.") Talking Critter books are lots of fun, but I chose to go the alternative path when I created Hamlet, the titular mascot in my Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series.  So let's talk a moment about Category B - Realistic Animal.  

Hamlet has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnessing a murder.  Unfortunately for Brooklyn bookstore owner and official feline caretaker Darla Pettistone, Hamlet - "Category B-er" that he is - can't tell the authorities what he knows about the killing.  But the wily feline has a workaround.  

Hamlet has become the king of book-snagging, a little trick that entails periodically pulling appropriately-titled books off the bookstore's shelves to serve as clues for Darla.  Then, it's up to her to interpret those cryptic words into something that makes sense as far as solving the crime.  

But "realistic" also means keeping it real.  It occurred to me early on in my series that you can only have so much murder and mayhem taking place in one bookstore.  So I established Hamlet as an escape artist.  This allowed me to have Hamlet find a dead body somewhere else besides on Darla's doorstep, which was the case in the first Hamlet book.  

By the third outing, Darla had trained Hamlet to walk with a harness and leash.  That way, in book four, LITERALLY MURDER, Hamlet is able to go on vacation with Darla.  Of course, he pads his way over yet another pesky dead body... but at least said corpse is found outside the Brooklyn zip code, for a change.  

I'm currently hard at work on book five in the series, which takes place back at the bookstore.  And, once more, Darla and the police are going to need every bit of help they can get in solving this next murder.  But, don't worry, Hamlet will save the day yet again.  After all, it's his furry picture on the book cover.  
Ali Brandon is the New York Times bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime.  Writing under her real name, Diane A.S. Stuckart, she penned the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as a Florida Book Award.  Additionally, she is the author of five critically-reviewed historical romances which will soon be re-released as ebooks.  A native Texan with a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Diane a/k/a Ali now lives in South Florida.  She's a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Cat Writers Association.  

This series is absolutely adorable.  I just love Hamlet!  And of course, every good cat has an awesome human to take care of them, and Darla is great.  This book, in particular, was wonderfully entertaining.  It was so much fun to see Darla and Hamlet make it out of the bookstore and into a whole new world of possibilities.  Their hi-jinx followed them and it made for a fantastic story and mystery. 

I read this book from start to finish in one sitting.  It was that good.  All of the characters are well developed and easily loved.  The plot moves quickly and efficiently with a creative mystery to boot.  If you haven't read this series yet, you really need to!  You can very easily start with Literally Murder, but if you want to get to know Hamlet and Darla and their supporting cast (which I greatly recommend, given their awesomeness!), I'd start with book one.  

Rating: 4.5 stars 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All conclusions reached are my own.  

Thanks to the awesome ladies at Penguin, I have 1 paperback copy of Literally Murder by Ali Brandon to give away to one of my lucky readers!  Just enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win, and be sure to keep checking back for more awesome giveaways!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


holdenj said...

Great guest post. I really liked her comments about realistic animals vs talking critters in books. Thanks for the chance to win!

Anna Gerard/Diane A.S. Stuckart said...

Marie, thanks for hosting me here on your blog. And thanks for the very kind review! ~Ali Brandon

Becky Prazak said...

Love this series!

Unknown said...

The books sounds great.
I don't tweet.


Jocerane said...

Love Hammlet!
Dont count me in, I've already ordered the book!

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