Dogs Don‘t Lie, by Clea Simon. Poisoned Pen Press, April 2011. 9781590588604. 260pp.
Pru Marlowe is a pet psychic—although, after receiving that unlooked-for “gift” in school, during what she thought was a nervous breakdown, she understandably has trouble thinking of companion animals anymore as “pets.” After she recovered, somewhat, she moved back to Beauville, to care for her dying mother, which had the added benefit of getting away from people. Although Pru inherited her mother’s house she still has bills to pay, so she puts her almost-degree as an animal behaviorist to work walking dogs, consulting with animal control, and taking referrals as a “pet” psychologist. It is in her capacity as animal trainer that she lets herself into the home of her best-paying client, Charles Harris, who rescued a pit bull from the dogfight circuit, and finds Charles with his throat ripped out and the dog, Lily*, crazed with grief. (*“Lily” is her real name; Charles, a geek, had named her “Tetris.” Most of the companion animals in the book have names bestowed by their humans, that may or may not relate to the names they give themselves—such as “Bitsy” the Bichon, who thinks of himself as “Growler”—or “Bandit” the ferret , really “Frank.”] Pru works through a growing list of suspects and motives, aided (and unknowingly hindered) by the experiences shared by Lily and other animals; Pru’s reasoning is aided most directly by the fat tabby Wallis, who is more of a best friend than anything else. She needs it: the book has more than your average number of red herrings, any of which could be a feasible clue. The reader encounters quite a complete contingent of bullies, cads, gossip-mongers, nice guys, vamps, disturbing examples of knee-jerk speciesism, potential villains, and quite engaging animals.
I love this book! This is the first of the “Pru Marlow Pet Noir” series, and I so look forward to future volumes. I kept up with Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” series for years and with Rita Mae Browne’s Mrs. Murphy books and enjoyed them, but after a certain point (years into each excellent series!) I lost interest. I now believe it was because there was no dialogue between the human and fur people. I admire how Simon is able to convey what I know in my heart to be a cat’s true voice, without the anthropomorphizing such an attempt generally entails. Wallis is wholly cat; she also is the only animal who can really communicate with Pru (when she can be bothered to, of course—please remember that she is still a cat!) and even “eavesdrop” on Pru’s own thoughts, just as Pru can with animals. The thoughts from animals other than Wallis are impressions more than actual articulated thoughts, but the author handles this aspect of human-animal interaction skillfully, as she does the rest of the book.
My only complaints are: First, the book is not nearly long enough! And second, it’s the first in the series so I can’t immediately grab the second and start reading. Simon does have a number of other cat-centered mysteries, which I am certain I’ll be seeking out shortly. However, being fond of the noir school (ok, perhaps a dark gray), I can’t wait for the next in this series. Very highly recommended!