Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Catnapped - Gabriella Herkert

An Animal Instinct Mystery
Gabriella Herkert

As an investigator for a law firm, Sara Townley is pretty far down the food chain. When she’s asked to look into the disappearance of the beneficiary of a $2 million trust, she’s briefly excited. Until she finds out that said beneficiary, Flash, is a cat. Still eager to impress her boss, she starts at Flash’s last known residence, the palatial home of an eccentric billionaire, Stuart Masterson. Jeff Randle, who lives in the guesthouse and cares for the cat, has nothing concrete to offer, except to note that the owner of the cat, and the author of the trust, was the billionaire’s personal assistant. A search of the house turns up nothing solid.

Sara may be missing a cat, but there’s someone waiting for her at home: her husband. Connor McNamara, the Navy man she married in Vegas four months ago after a week of great sex, and hasn’t seen since. Sure he’s there for a divorce, she’s shocked when he reminds her that he told her from the beginning that divorce is not for him. All they have in common is that one week in Vegas. Who builds a marriage on that?

When Jeff gets an anonymous tip about the whereabouts of Flash, Sara leaps at the chance to investigate, not least because it gets her out of the house. The meeting is at midnight, in a dark alley. Sara may be the only one surprised when she trips over a dead body at the scene. At this point, Connor insists on being let in on the investigation, if only to protect his wife. First order of business is finding out whose body was lying in the alley. From there, the trail widens to encompass Masterson’s grown and resentful children, his company, his oddly timed disappearance, and a very disgruntled former business partner.

First in a new series, this novel contains a serious flaw. Sara, 34 and a bona fide adult, is not a very likeable character. She makes consistently bad decisions; lies to her husband, even after promising not to do so; rushes into dangerous situations after agreeing on a more careful approach; and overreacts with maddening regularity. She does have some very nice moments, though, and those were honest enough to show that she’s deeply conflicted about something. There are hints at something darker in her past that might partially explain these actions, but that is never explored in this installment. Perhaps more light will be shed on that in later volumes.

On a very positive note, the rest of the characters are likeable and realistic. Even minor characters, like a waitress in a diner, have fully-formed personalities and backgrounds. Everyone should have a best friend as good as her neighbor Russ. This helps to anchor the mystery, since Sara feels bound to continue looking into the case in order to help bring some kind of closure to a widow. Animal lovers should be warned that Flash is very much a tertiary character here. He’s more of a point of entry to the case proper than the subject of the novel, and in this case it works very well, allowing him to be a sort of bookend to the narrative. I’ll be very interested to see where the story goes from here.

Rating: 6 ½
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22197-1 (paperback)


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