Book cover art is a hot topic in our house. With some books we have been absolutely certain that a publisher didn’t even glance at the inside before they chose the images they put on the front – a main character with hair colour that didn’t match the one described inside or an art style that doesn’t reflect the tone of the book? It’s so disappointing.
With the first book in Jennifer J. Chow‘s Sassy Cat mystery series the cover design is spot on – the plump white cat takes centre stage, and the vivid colours draw you into a warm California vibe that continues throughout the series. One glance at these covers tells you that the contents will include sandals, picnics, and walks on sandy beaches with inconvenient crimes just getting in the way of a good time.
At first you might think that a cat on the cover is misleading, because main character Mimi Lee’s profession (all good cozy mysteries feature an amateur sleuth with a quirky day job) is to run a brand-new dog grooming shop. Why doesn’t a dog anchor the cover design? Well, when we first meet Mimi, her sister, and her parents, they are celebrating the grand opening of her shop and give her a rescued Persian cat who… can communicate with her telepathically.
Now, this isn’t so odd. Murders solved with the assistance of helpful cats goes back for generations within the genre. Lilian Jackson Braun’s Koko provides hints by pushing books from shelves, Sofie Kelly’s Hercules and Owen use magic to point her toward clues, and Rita Mae Brown has written over twenty-five novels with Pewter as a furry main character, so a telepathic cat is not much of a stretch. Also, this is a cat character very worthy of our attention. When Mimi names him “Marshmallow” he calls her on it, accusing her of using the name as a way of shaming him for his weight. He is a shockingly funny cat who can translate other pet “languages” into English and guides Mimi throughout the investigation through words, meows and gentle nudging with his body and tail.
Mimi is not unaware that hearing the voice of your pet is reason for concern, but she is too busy trying to make her new business – called Hollywoof – a success and can be forgiven for focusing on paying the rent instead of wondering about her cat’s special powers. In addition to being a fledgling business owner, she is a supportive older sister and loyal daughter (although her mother does set her up on some disastrous dates before she begins a romance with her next-door neighbour, Josh) so having a comforting pet comes in handy.
When her shop becomes popular with smaller breed dogs and their hilariously fashionable owners, Mimi discovers the dogs have health concerns that can be traced to a questionable breeder. A heated conversation she has with the breeder makes Mimi one of the suspects in his murder and she realizes that Marshmallow’s special skills make him a valuable partner. The relationship between cat and owner takes the place of what we would normally read between a main character and best friend, and with some of the best banter I’ve seen in a while.
Author Jennifer J. Chow tidies up the loose ends in this mystery perfectly before the novel finishes and sets us up for the next installment in the series which has Mimi helping her kindergarten teacher sister out of trouble when a fellow teacher is found dead. It’s a perfect second outing for Mimi because she shines again as a successful business owner and loyal big sister.
Mimi’s love for her family is obvious in the time she devotes to them. One of the most enjoyable moments is when she and Josh join her parents for a game night with spectacular snacks. Food is integral in both novels as it is a connection that Mimi and her sister, Alice, have with their Mother’s Malaysian culture and helps them set aside time to relax together and with their parents. The setting for these novels is so soothing, with meals at the market, sitting on a park bench for a coffee date, meeting for bubble tea or walking the dogs – but the relationship between family members is the real highlight.
We currently have two great novels in this series available for you to enjoy and Lee’s publisher’s website notes that a third will be available in November featuring Mimi and Josh taking a mini vacation (they will be taking along their favourite cat). Even if you start off as more of a “dog person” I’m sure a few chapters with Marshmallow will change your mind.
— Penny M.