Watership Down; DreamKeepers, Vol. 1; Travels of Thelonius; Three Bags Full; Black Dogs, Book One; We the Underpeople; Joined in Mind and Body; and Cat Pay the Devil

reviewed by Fred Patten
©2007 Fred Patten

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Watership Down DreamKeepers, Vol. 1 Travels of Thelonius Three Bags Full
Black Dogs, Book One We the Underpeople Joined in Mind and Body Cat Pay the Devil

Watership Down, by Richard Adams
Cover of WATERSHIP DOWN (Collings edition)
First UK edition
Publisher: Rex Collings Ltd. (London), Nov 1972
Illustrator: ? (fold-out map)
ISBN: 0-901720-31-3
Hardcover, viii + 413 pages, £3.50

Cover of WATERSHIP DOWN (Macmillan edition)

First US edition
Publisher: Macmillan Publishing Co. (NYC), Mar 1974
Illustrator: ? (maps)
ISBN: 0-02-700030-3
Hardcover, ix + 429 pages, $6.95

   Watership Down is a literary classic, and like most literary classics, it is recommended reading in many high schools. Teachers have reported that it is a hard sell to some adolescents who feel that they are too old to be reading ‘fuzzy bunny’ books.
   How many ‘fuzzy bunny’ books open with a first-chapter quote from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon?

   CHORUS: Why do you cry out thus, unless at some vision of horror?
   CASSANDRA: The house reeks of death and dripping blood. …

   It is hard for fans of anthropomorphic literature today to imagine a time before Watership Down existed. The concept of featuring talking, intelligent ‘realistic’ animals in an adult novel, a dramatic adventure rather than an intellectual political or moral allegory—creating a detailed language and a religion for an animal species—those were invented for Watership Down. How many talking-animal books for adults were there between Animal Farm (1945) and Watership Down (1972)? Hardly any. How many have there been since Watership Down? Lots! How many of those have not been adventure quests featuring a particular animal species with its language and religion? Very few!
   Watership Down begins in the English countryside, at the long-established Sandleford Warren. In just a few words Adams establishes the natural society of a rabbit warren, dominated by an alpha buck (the Chief Rabbit) and a clique of the mature bucks (the Owsla) who boss the younger rabbits around. Some of the younger rabbits take this, waiting until they become old enough to join the Owsla, while others leave to become a lone wandering rabbit (Hlessi) without a warren.
   Hazel and his brother Fiver are younger rabbits in the Sandleford warren. Fiver is small, neurotic, and notorious for seeing danger everywhere. In fact, he is a genuine lapine Cassandra, with the major difference that there is someone who believes him. Hazel has seen his forecasts come true too often to ignore him when he suddenly predicts doom for the whole warren:

   The two rabbits went up to the board at a hopping run and crouched in a patch of nettles on the far side, wrinkling their noses at the smell of a dead cigarette end somewhere in the grass. Suddenly Fiver shivered and cowered down.
    “Oh, Hazel! This is where it comes from! I know now—something very bad! Some terrible thing—coming closer and closer.”
    He began to whimper with fear.
    “What sort of thing—what do you mean? I thought you said there was no danger?”
   “I don’t know what it is,” answered Fiver wretchedly. “There isn’t any danger here, at this moment. But it’s coming—it’s coming. Oh, Hazel, look! The field! It’s covered with blood!”
    “Don’t be silly, it’s only the light of the sunset. Fiver, come on, don’t talk like this, you’re frightening me.”
    Fiver sat trembling and crying among the nettles as Hazel tried to reassure him and to find out what it could be that had suddenly driven him beside himself. If he was terrified, why did he not run for safety, as any sensible rabbit would? But Fiver could not explain and only grew more and more distressed. At last Hazel said,
    “Fiver, you can’t sit crying here. Anyway, it’s getting dark. We’d better go back to the burrow.”
    “Back to the burrow?” whimpered Fiver. “It’ll come there—don’t think it won’t! I tell you, the field’s full of blood—”
(U.S. ed., pgs. 6-7)

   When Sandleford’s Chief Rabbit ignores Fiver’s insistence that the whole warren must flee, Hazel determines that they will go alone if they have to. They end up leading a group of eleven wanderers searching for the site that Fiver has foreseen as their new home. In this first quarter of the novel, they encounter the dangers that homeless rabbits aboveground naturally face; predators such as foxes, hawks, and men with shotguns who treat all wild rabbits as garden-destroying vermin. Individual rabbits begin to stand out: Blackberry, who comes up with clever ideas; Bigwig, the massive former Owlsla member who becomes Hazel’s second-in-command; Dandelion, the storyteller. It is Dandelion’s stories in the tradition of primitive creation myths that establish the rabbits’ sun-god Frith and the first rabbit, the trickster El-ahrairah (Elil-Hrair-Rah):

   “Then,” said Dandelion, “Frith felt himself in friendship with El-ahrairah, because of his resourcefulness, and because he would not give up even when he thought the fox and the weasel were coming. And he said, ‘Very well, I will bless your bottom as it sticks out of the hole. Bottom, be strength and warning and speed forever and save the life of your master. Be it so!’ And as he spoke, El-ahrairah’s tail grew shining white and flashed like a star: and his back legs grew long and powerful and he thumped the hillside until the very beetles fell off the grass stems. He came out of the hole and tore across the hill faster than any creature in the world. And Frith called after him, ‘El-ahrairah, your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so. All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.’” (U.S. ed., pg. 26)

   The wanderers’ almost-fatal stop at Cowslip’s treacherous warren teaches them to distrust rabbits who do not believe in Frith and El-ahrairah. Their hardships—including learning the horrifying fate of the Sandleford Warren—mold them from nervous loners into a tight-knit warren in all except a physical home, who accept Hazel as their Chief Rabbit—Hazel-rah.
   Most authors would have made the successful arrival at their goal their conclusions. The arrival of Hazel’s warren at Watership Down comes barely a quarter through the novel. The new warren needs females to successfully establish itself. One of Hazel’s insights of genius is to befriend other animals besides rabbits in their new neighborhood. They nurse an injured black-headed gull, Kehaar, back to health and he gives them aerial information about the countryside. This includes a human farm with domestic rabbits in a hutch, and another warren a couple of miles away.
   The Watership Downers have adventures at both places, especially with the overcrowded, super-warren, Efrafa, from which they need to help a group of discontented does to escape. Efrafa turns out to be organized as a military dictatorship under General Woundwort, who sets out to conquer and destroy all other warrens almost as soon as he learns of them. Woundwort is a terrifyingly intelligent leader who seems invincible. The Downers’ scheme to aid the unhappy does to flee to their warren is immediately thrown into chaos by the General’s realizing what is happening:

   Bigwig realized that since the moment when Kehaar had attacked him in the field, Woundwort had not only retained control over his officers but had actually made a plan and put it into effect. The storm and the difficult going had upset the fugitives and disorganized them. Woundwort, on the other hand, had taken his rabbits into the ditch and then made use of it to get them down to the water meadow, unexposed to further attack from Kehaar. Once there, he must have gone straight for the plank bridge—which he evidently knew about—and set an ambush under cover. But as soon as he had grasped that for some reason the runaways were not making for the bridge after all, he had instantly sent Campion to make his way round through the undergrowth, regain the bank downstream and cut them off; and Campion had done this without error or delay. Now Woundwort meant to fight them, here on the bank. […] Bigwig began to understand why Woundwort’s officers followed him and fought for him as they did. (U.S. ed., pg. 326)

   Woundwort’s relentless pursuit and the dramatic siege of Watership Down by the Efrafans fills the last quarter of the novel.
   Watership Down is one of those famous novels that was rejected by over a dozen publishers when it was first submitted. Adams was on the verge of vanity-pressing a tiny edition when a small publisher, Rex Collings, decided to take a chance on it. The first edition, only 2,000 copies, got immediate rave reviews and won two literary awards. A British mass-market edition was published by Puffin Books in January 1974; the American edition was published by Macmillan in March, and it has not been out of print since then. S-f fans were appreciative when Martin Rosen, the director of the animated motion picture, gave it a preview screening at the 1978 World Science Fiction Convention in Phoenix; it was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation the next year. Both are recommended, but the novel is a must-read if there ever was one.

Watership Down DreamKeepers, Vol. 1 Travels of Thelonius Three Bags Full
Black Dogs, Book One We the Underpeople Joined in Mind and Body Cat Pay the Devil

Title: DreamKeepers. Vol. 1, Awakenings
Creators: David Lillie, with Liz Thomas and Brad Higginbotham
Publisher: Vivid Publishing (Columbus, OH), Dec 2006
ISBN: 0-9786990-0-9
Trade paperback, 98 pages, USD $19.95

Click on this panel to view the full-size (160K) page in a new window

   This self-published graphic novel, the first three chapters of a continuing serial available from its creators’ website, is Furry enough—but Furry what!? The DreamKeepers’ world may be the home of hundreds of thousands of funny animals, but no two seem to be of the same species. And while some are based upon dogs or cats or sharks or hawks or other recognizable species, many are original artistic creations—especially some of the monsters, which we can be thankful are nothing like anything in our world!
   There is a one-page Introduction that explains how the DreamWorld is connected to our world. Frankly, this is more confusing than edifying since it has no connection to the events in this book (although it may turn out to be more relevant as the story progresses). Volume 1, Awakenings, is set in Anduruna, the largest DreamKeeper city in the DreamWorld, which vaguely resembles the interstellar metropolises of Star Wars with their teeming nonhuman populations from many worlds.
   The Introduction says, There has been no conflict in the DreamWorld for centuries. Peace has bred complacency and ignorance. Hah! The story begins in Grunn’s Orphanage, a hellhole straight out of Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Mace, a puppylike young adolescent, is the main character, a cocky brat who is always creating his own mischief in addition to being the fall guy for the serious delinquents’ troublemaking. But Mace finds himself in deep trouble when one of the other orphans is bloodily murdered and he is blamed. He escapes into a political conspiracy against Anduruna’s governor, the Viceroy—with hints at a greater, literally demonic underlying menace to be revealed later.
   In addition to Mace (who may be kitten- rather than puppy-based, but he sure is Furry and Cute), the characters include Lilith (green cat-girl), Paige (kitten), Grunn (hulking shark-man), Igrath (hawk), Scinter (big snake; a boa or python), Ravat (wolf), and Tinsel (squirrel probably, though she is so stylized it is hard to be sure). These are only the characters whose designs are based on recognizable animals. Others, including some of the main cast like Whip and Namah, are complete fantasy Furries. In addition, each character in the DreamWorld has a superhero psionic talent (Whip = telekinesis, Lilith = healing, Namah = ‘ether tendrils’, Tinsel = ‘burning hair tendrils’), though not everyone’s are revealed in volume 1.
   With so many different kinds of characters and so many different superpowers, you might think that DreamKeepers is a chaotic mess. Instead, it all comes together very well. The story, except for a very ominous but brief prologue, starts out light and cheerful (despite the brutal orphanage locale) and gradually becomes more suspenseful. There are two separate pair of teen protagonists, Mace and his pal Whip (don’t call him a pet!) from the seaside slums, and the half-sisters Lilith and Namah from the government’s Sabbaton Towers, less a seat of politicians than an aristocracy’s ornate palace. What starts out as their separate stories gradually draws them together. Neither pair knows what is going on, other than that they have stumbled into a vast and deadly conspiracy from which they must escape. Since the story follows them closely, the reader is also reasonably left in the dark as volume 1 ends. The characters are very distinct, and the Good Guys are quite charismatic. The psionic powers are generally unused except in a climactic battle scene, which makes them more dramatic when they finally do appear. The reader is left anxious to see what happens next, in Volume 2, Flight to Starfall, “coming soon”.
   Volume 1 was published just before Christmas 2006, and is already into its third printing. In May 2007 it won a Bronze Medal in the Graphic Novel/Drawn Book—Humor/Cartoon category of the 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards outside the comic book field proper, and it has been receiving glowing accolades on practically all the comics industry’s review sites. The creators (“David Lillie, story, finished writing, pencils, layout, colors, cover & logos; Liz Thomas, editor, additional writing; Brad Higginbotham, script rough draft, partial color blocking”) have added a weekly DreamKeepers: Prelude! strip to their website, set before the graphic novel and showing the four teens in happier, more comedic times—also several new Furry characters who are not in the main story, at least yet. (I like Bobby, the cheetahlike orphan.) Look at the www.DreamKeepersComic.com website to read the Prelude! comic strip and see several sample pages from Volume 1, then go to their online Store to buy it.

Watership Down DreamKeepers, Vol. 1 Travels of Thelonius Three Bags Full
Black Dogs, Book One We the Underpeople Joined in Mind and Body Cat Pay the Devil

Title: Travels of Thelonious. (The Fog Mound, Book 1)
Author: Susan Schade and Jon Buller
Illustrator: Jon Buller
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing (NYC), May 2006
ISBN: 0-689-87684-X
Hardcover, 214 pages, USD $14.95

   This unusual children’s book (ages 8 to 12), the first in the Fog Mound trilogy by the husband-& wife team of Susan Schade (writer) and Jon Buller (cartoonist), alternates back & forth between a text novel and a graphic novel. The odd-numbered chapters are in a pictorial comic-book format, and the even-numbered chapters are in text, although with an illustration on almost every page. Buller’s cartoony art is all black-&-white line drawings, with pale blue tinting which enhances the drawings by making key elements stand out (sometimes in reverse, with everything in blue except the key elements in black-&-white).
Interior page of TRAVELS OF THELONIUS    Young Thelonious Chipmunk has just moved out from his parent’s tree in the Untamed Forest into a hollow tree of his own, on the bank of a big river. He has decorated it with old pictures made by humans before they became extinct. A violent rainstorm undercuts the riverbank, and Thelonious is swept into the river. He awakens where the river flows into the sea, near some absolutely vertical cliffs.

   I stared up at one of the cliffs. It seemed strangely familiar to me. I thought, Where have I seen something like this before? Not in the Untamed Forest, that’s for sure! It must have been in a dream.
   And then it came to me.
   What I was looking at wasn’t a cliff. It was a human building! I recognized it because I had seen a picture of one before – on my human artifact card!
   Aha! I thought, and I touched the wall beside me. This is real! It’s a real human building. And that means humans were real! I was right! I knew it. Oh, boy, wait’ll I tell Dolores about this!
   It was just that I hadn’t expected human buildings to be so big. These were HUGE.
(pg. 21)

   The City of Ruins is a mostly intact human city, although crumbling with age, believed in the Untamed Forest to be legendary; but with a sinister reputation:

   Hidden within the City’s gates lie riches untold, and drawn to the riches, like moths to the moon, come stealing, come creeping, the most evil and ruthless criminals known to Animalkind… (pg. 25)

   Thelonious explores cautiously and sees several animals wearing human clothes who are living in various buildings. He is nervous about showing himself until he spots one who is not a predator, a porcupine in a bookshop. The porcupine, Fitzgerald, explains how the animals have been living in the city peacefully together for years, on the bounty of canned and preserved foods for all tastes still in the markets. Fitzgerald shows Thelonious around the city on his restored Vespa scooter (they stop at a decaying toyshop where Thelonious takes some human clothes for himself, a striped unisex shirt from a Barbie doll kit). Wally, a porcupine friend, mentions another recent newcomer; a bear in a flying machine who crashed nearby.

   “Anyway, getting back to the bear, I wasn’t the only one who saw her come down, you know. Some of the others that saw her started a rumor that she’s a witch, but I don’t know about that. I’ve seen her around since then. She’s got a workshop set up in an old warehouse down on Jay Street. The word is that she’s building a new flying machine.”
   Fitzgerald gave Wally a piercing look. “I don’t know, Wally,” he said. “Maybe, just maybe, she found an old flying machine and figured out how to fly it. Although I wouldn’t believe that if you hadn’t seen it yourself. But now she’s supposed to be building one? I don’t think so.”
   “I’m not saying it’s true,” Wally said. “I’m telling you what I’ve heard, that’s all.”
   Fitzgerald thought about it. “You’d have to have the tools. And the knowledge. And thumbs. You’d have to have thumbs to use the tools. And bears don’t have thumbs. Only porcupines and skunks have thumbs.”
(pgs. 63-64)

   Fitzgerald and Thelonious visit Olive Bear and find that she is indeed building a new flying machine, although she is really just putting together a human machine kit from just before their extinction. “It’s an ultra-light velocicopter. It came with complete instructions for assembly and operation.” Olive wants to return home to the Fog Mound, an environmentally-correct utopian animal community on a high mountain plateau above a permanent cloud of poisonous fog. When her workshop is attacked by the ratmink minions of the reptilian Dragon Lady, the City’s crime boss who wants the velocicopter for herself, the three plus the shifty Brown Lizard escape barely in time in the flying machine. Fog Mound or bust!
   A children’s fantasy like this would ordinarily be too juvenile to interest Anthro’s readers, but Travels of Thelonious has several aspects that should endear it to older enthusiasts. One is the extremely attractive hardcover packaging, with artistic touches of gold leaf on the cover. (A May 2007 paperback reprint lacks this.) Another is the attractive and uncluttered art, which makes the anthropomorphized animals cartoony but keeps their appearances and sizes realistic. Fitzgerald is barely large enough to operate the Vespa scooter, with Thelonious hanging onto its rear view mirror. Olive Bear is the only one large enough to handle the human flying machine’s controls; the others are only tiny passengers.
   A third is the acknowledgement that animals should not be able to use tools or talk even if they are intelligent, which raises the characters from pure funny animals to a superficial degree of science fiction. The doubletalk about mysterious evolution of thumbs and the division of the animals into “talking animals like us, and then there are the grunters and growlers,” as Thelonious’ sister Dolores puts it, does not really explain anything; but it acknowledges that the authors have tried to give the story a rough s-f plausibility. (There is a next-to-last-page hint that some human scientists knew that humanity was about to die off and may have experimented on some animals to prepare them to succeed mankind; so Books 2 or 3 may reinforce the vague doubletalk.) There are several maps and readers of all ages like maps, as well as compact futuristic vehicles like Olive’s flying machine.
   The theme of anthropomorphized animals inheriting the earth after mankind has killed itself off goes back to Hugh Harman’s & Rudy Ising’s 1939 MGM Oscar-nominated Peace on Earth theatrical short cartoon. That was anti-war. The theme with a more anti-scientific or pro-ecological message, in which mankind becomes extinct by recklessly meddling with nature or carelessly destroying the biosphere, has been used in Young Adult s-f and fantasy by Andre Norton; another recommended example almost forgotten now is Odyssey From River Bend, by Tom McGovern (1975). It has not been used lately, which may make the Fog Mound trilogy fresh to readers today. The mystery of what happened to the humans while leaving their cities intact is left for Books 2 (Faradawn, due in September 2007) and 3 to answer.

Watership Down DreamKeepers, Vol. 1 Travels of Thelonius Three Bags Full
Black Dogs, Book One We the Underpeople Joined in Mind and Body Cat Pay the Devil

Cover of ITEM 3
Title: Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story [UK] [US]
Author: Leonie Swann
Translator: Anthea Bell

Publisher: Doubleday (London), Jun 2006
ISBN: 0-385-60994-9
Hardcover, [3] + 341 [+ 3] pages, UK £12.99

Publisher: Doubleday/Flying Dolphin Press (NYC), Jun 2007
ISBN: 0-385-52111-1
Hardcover, [3] + 341 [+ 3] pages, USD $22.95

   This unusual murder mystery, originally published in Germany (Glennkill. Ein Schafskrimi; Munich, Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, August 2005), begins with a ‘Dramatis Oves’ of the nineteen sheep who will solve the murder of their shepherd, George Glenn. Miss Maple (3), the cleverest sheep in the flock, maybe the cleverest sheep in Glennkill, quite possibly the cleverest sheep in the whole world, (pg. [i]) is the commander of these wooly detectives, and the one who patiently keeps their wooly wits concentrated on avenging their more-or-less beloved human companion.

   “He was healthy yesterday,” said Maude. Her ears twitched nervously.
   “That doesn’t mean anything,” pointed out Sir Ritchfield, the oldest ram in the flock. “He didn’t die of an illness. Spades are not an illness.”
   The shepherd was lying in the green Irish grass beside the hay barn, not far from the path through the fields. He didn’t move. A single crow had settled on his woolly Norwegian sweater and was studying his internal arrangements with professional interest. Beside the crow sat a very happy rabbit. Rather further off, close to the edge of the cliff, the sheep were holding a meeting.
(pg. 1)

   The novel is told strictly from the sheep’s point of view. The reader observes what they do when they do; although the viewpoint does sometimes shift from that of the whole flock to that of one or a group of the sheep who are investigating separate clues.

   There ensued a discussion of some length between Heather, Cloud, and Mopple the Whale. Mopple the Whale insisted that you judged a shepherd’s merits by the quantity and quality of the fodder he provided, and in this respect there was nothing, nothing whatsoever, to be said against George Glenn. Finally they agreed that a good shepherd was one who never docked the lambs’ tails; didn’t keep a sheepdog; provided good fodder and plenty of it, particularly bread and sugar but healthy things too like green stuff, concentrated feed, and mangel-wurzels (for they were all very sensible sheep); and who clothed himself entirely in the products of his own flock, for instance an all-in-one suit made of spun sheep’s wool, which would look really good, almost as if he were a sheep himself. Of course it was obvious to them all that no such perfect being was to be found anywhere in the world, but it was a nice idea all the same. They sighed a little, and were about to scatter, pleased to think that they had cleaned up all outstanding questions.
   So far, however, Miss Maple had taken no part in the discussion. Now she said, “Don’t you want to know what he died of?”
   Sir Ritchfield looked at her in surprise. “He died of that spade. You wouldn’t have survived it either, a heavy iron thing like that driven right through you. No wonder he’s dead.” Sir Ritchfield shuddered slightly.
   “And where did the spade come from?”
   “Someone stuck it in him.” As far as Sir Ritchfield was concerned, that was the end of the matter, but Othello, the only black sheep in the flock, suddenly began taking an interest in the problem.
   “It can only have been a human who did it—or a very large monkey.” Othello had spent his youth in Dublin Zoo and never missed an opportunity to mention it.”
(pgs. 3-4)

   Frankly, the spade is the detail that I find hardest to accept. If it had been a pitchfork, fine; but how do you ram a spade clean through a human body? But if you are willing to accept this point (and if you can accept talking sheep, why not?), the novel then flows smoothly.
   George’s death, and the villagers’ lack of interest in his sheep, enables them to wander freely and investigate:

   Grazing in the dark was surprisingly pleasant. Nocturnal insects in the grass chirped at them appetizingly, and everything smelled of wet herbs. Why had they let these pleasures escape them until now? It was George’s fault. George had insisted that they must spend night after night in that boring hay barn, while the world outside was such an appetizing spectacle. George hadn’t had the faintest idea of the art of grazing. (pg. 89)

   Who in the tiny Irish seacoast village of Glennkill could have wanted to kill old George? Abraham Rackham, the butcher? (The herbivorous sheep believe that a slaughterer of animals could be capable of any crime.) Bible-thumping Beth, the local do-gooder? Gabriel O’Rourke, a rival shepherd? Father Will, the parish priest who is weaker than many of his parishioners? The suspiciously-acting tourist in the blood-red dress? As the sheep eavesdrop on the humans, they learn that George was considered an unfriendly hermit, living alone in his mobile caravan with his sheep and seldom going into the village, and that the hostility (George sarcastically mocked the villagers’ plans to turn Glennkill into a tourist center) cut both ways. Some believe that George could not have supported himself with such a small flock, and that he must have had another, secret source of income. The humans conveniently come up to George’s field to look around, openly in daylight or sneakingly after dark:

   At this moment Maude squeezed her way in under the dolmen with the others, and seconds later a beam of light swept past them. Three people followed it closely. The beam of light came to rest on George’s caravan and swept up the walls. It was looking for somewhere to hide.
   “Now what?” asked Tom.
   “We need that grass,” said Harry. “So we break the door down.”
   “Are you crazy?” said Josh. “I’m not doing that. That’s a crime, that is.”
   “So disposing of evidence is legal, is it?” said Harry scornfully. “If they find the dope here it’s all over. No Faerie Dolmen. No pony rides. No Celtic Cultural Center. No whiskey specialties. And you can stuff your seaside hotel!”
   “Maybe there isn’t any dope,” said Josh.
   “What else would be in there? How did old George keep his head above water all this time? With his few pathetic sheep? You must be jokin’! Did he ever want to sell up? Laughed in your face when you come along with your money, so he did. Here was this grand view just wasted on his sheep, and now he’s dead at last, do we want Glennkill getting itself in the papers as a mecca for the drugs trade?”
   The sheep’s knees were shaking with indignation.

   White faces appeared at the door of the hay barn. Every sheep in the meadow was now listening intently. And not just the sheep. Maude had been sniffing the air uneasily for quite a time. She couldn’t smell the men with stocking masks on from here; the night-time scents, thankfully, had overlaid the nervous sweating of the intruders. But with every breath she took the suggestion of a human scent wafted past her: a smell of the digestion of cooked food, barely perceived. (pgs. 83-85)

   The sheep are disconcerted to discover that Glennkill’s humans are not the only ones who have been acting suspiciously. There are clues that someone in their own flock knows more than he or she is telling:

   Maple told him about the hoofprint on George’s stomach. “A sheep stood on George very hard,” she said. “Or kicked him. Difficult to say which. The question is, when? Before his death? Perhaps. But not long before—the print was too clear for that. Which means…”
   Mopple looked at her expectantly.
   “Which means there was a sheep with George just before or after he died. Or when he died. A strong sheep, or a heavy one.” She looked briefly at Mopple. “But why would a sheep kick George? Was there a struggle with him, like with the calcium tablets?”
   Mopple thought of the calcium tablets and shook his ears.
(pgs. 76-77)

   Some surprises are learned by listening in on human conversations, such as that George’s death may be related to an unsolved murder seven years earlier. Others are revealed by the sheep’s natural instincts:

   “The red woman isn’t stupid either,” said Othello, almost a touch too proudly.
   “Oh no.” Miss Maple nodded. “The red woman isn’t a bit stupid.”
   “I’d never have expected George to have a child,” said Maude. “You did smell it, didn’t you?” Several sheep had now joined the interesting conversation between Maple, Othello, and Maude. They nodded. The family scent. Sweat and skin and hair. Unmistakably George’s daughter.
(pg. 123)

   The final problem, once the sheep are sure they know who killed George, is how to bring the killer to justice? The village’s main tourist attraction, the annual ‘Smartest Sheep in Glennkill’ contest, provides the occasion.
   Coincidentally (?), both publisher Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag and translator Anthea Bell have been involved with Germany’s other high-profile animal murder mysteries, Akif Pirinçci’s Felidae novels. Three Bags Full has gotten equally favorable reviews for its cleverness. The flipbook cartoons of the gamboling sheep (“Sheep arrangement by Wiebke Rossa”) in the lower right corner of each odd-numbered page is a nice bonus.

Watership Down DreamKeepers, Vol. 1 Travels of Thelonius Three Bags Full
Black Dogs, Book One We the Underpeople Joined in Mind and Body Cat Pay the Devil

Title: Black Dogs—Part One: The House of Diamond
Author: Ursula Vernon
Illustrator: Chris Goodwin
Publisher: Sofawolf Press (St. Paul, MN), Mar 2007
ISBN: 0-9769212-4-3
Trade paperback, 222 pages, USD $14.95

   Black Dogs is a high fantasy adventure in the style of those by Elizabeth Moon or David Weber, set on a world inhabited by humans, elves, and anthropomorphized animals living together in a culture roughly comparable to that of tenth-century Europe. It is not a ‘pure’ anthro novel, but it has enough talking-animal warriors to satisfy any furry reader.
   Lyra, the teenaged daughter of a rich trading clan in the isolated northern Tangelore Hills, is the only survivor when their manor-fortress is destroyed by raiders led by her half-brother Jasen. Fleeing into the forests in terror, she meets a giant dog-soldier of faraway Khamir:

   It was no animal. It resembled nothing so much as a hound that had mastered the art of walking upright.
   Taller than a human, over six feet, with large, upstanding ears that added another foot to its height, it wore a cloak and thigh-length tunic of patterned black, clasped with worked gold. A skirt of armored leather strips hung down to his knees, and intricate bracers covered both forearms. The hilt of a sword protruded over one shoulder. Lyra swallowed, hard.
   It—he—smiled at her, tongue lolling between sharp lower teeth, lips drawing down to cover the massive upper canines. He lifted his hands—paws?—in a universal gesture of peace. His fingers were blunt-clawed, furred in the same mottled red-brown and black that covered the rest of his body.
(pg. 12)

    Certainly the one across the fire from her looked more like one of her father’s great brindled hounds than any being Lyra had ever seen. A black patch over one eye reminded her of a deerhound puppy she’d had as a child, but the large yellow eyes held an unmistakable intelligence.
   “Forgive me,” said the dog-soldier gently. “My name is Sadrao Majiid.”
(pg. 14)

   Lyra wonders why he is helping her:

    Sadrao met her eyes with his own frank gold ones. “You’ve never met a dog-soldier.”
   “No. What does that—”
   “If you had,” he interrupted, “you would know.” He sighed, tapping the claws of his index fingers together. “We were created as guardians. Soldiers. Protectors. And a human child loose in the woods, with no supplies, no trust, and not the faintest idea of how to survive—well, such a one needs protecting.” He slid a glance to her bandaged arm. “A child bearing sword wounds, and the honor-dagger of her House … it does not take a scholar to put two and two together.”
(pg. 20-21)

   There is nowhere safe that Sadrao can leave Lyra, so he takes her with him on his journey to meet the elf warriors Sinai and Jacyl. Sinai had wanted Sadrao to help them escort a hostage to Knaxos, the Isle of Books, for a magical examination by the mages there. When Sadrao asks why their planned route avoids the port-city of Frieze, he is told:

   “Frieze is dangerous of late,” put in Jacyl, drawing her cloak tighter around herself. “More boats, but more priests, too, and the Church has been preaching against non-humans lately. They’ve extended it to include elves.” She made a gesture that took in pointed ears and tilted, cat-like eyes. “I can almost pass, if I keep my head down, but Sinai might as well have burned their Sacrificed God herself.’’
   Elves and humans were, technically speaking, the same race, in the same way that bulldogs and greyhounds were both dogs, but neither the elves nor the Church were particularly proud of the connection. When Lyra considered that the other intelligent races of the world were mostly fur-bearing and closer kin to Sadrao than humanity, both sides seemed a little silly, but she was not going to say that to someone as elegantly self-possessed—and dangerous—as Sinai.
(pgs. 43-44)

   Lyra has always wanted to see the vast libraries of the Isle of Books, so she is satisfied to keep accompanying Sadrao. This brings her to larger cities than she has ever seen, where she gets her first sight of some of this world’s other animal-people:

    Lyra was amazed at the bazaar. […] Even a few non-humans—lithe-bodied Ferran, like giant, five-foot tall otters, clad mostly in their fur, and in belts and harnesses that were more decoration and storage than clothing. She was reminded of Sadrao’s thigh-length black leather, armor rather than modesty. And far off across the square, making his way toward a distant archway, a Slothan, one of the shaggy-pelted giants from Hurricane Way, over seven feet tall and weighing at least half a ton. He stood head and shoulders above the crowd, like an armor-clad wall. (pg. 58)

   This review is somewhat misleading in emphasizing descriptions of the anthropomorphized animals rather than the human or elves who are in the majority; or the plot or action. The plot, dealing with an evil wizard, dark sorcery, and human politics, is well-written and complex; there is plenty of action; and animal warriors are heavily involved. Other notable animal characters include the white-furred female dog-warrior Iyara Salishi; several albino wolverine library guards (Heavy lower canines protruded like tusks on either side of his muzzle, worked with elaborate silver scrimshaw.); Spite the Ferran swordswoman (She was a Ferran, one of the slim, delicate ermine-women, her fur snow white, her eyes blood-black and bright. She was barely three feet tall, her tail a good two feet long with an elegant black tip. pg. 189); and Spite’s partner, Gunner the Slothan (This creature was significantly smaller, probably no more than six hundred pounds, covered in thick, shaggy brown fur. The armor strapped across his body was primarily shoulder and joint protection, but gave a chilling testament that this sloth, unlike his cousin, was ready and willing for battle. Lyra couldn’t imagine a sword penetrating the long fur, thick hide, and heavy layer of fat with any kind of skill. It would take a very determined swordsman—no wonder the ornate armor was mostly over vulnerable areas. ibid.)
   Since this is Part One, it unsurprisingly ends on a cliffhanger. Sofawolf Press has promised the conclusion in 2008. Vernon actually completed the novel and posted it on the Elfwood website during 2004 and 2005, where it got rave reviews and demands for a sequel. Black Dogs seems so much like the sword-&-sorcery novels coming from Baen, DAW, or Tor Books that it is a mystery why a commercial publication has taken this long. This Sofawolf Press edition has the advantage of eleven full-page illustrations by Christopher Goodwin. Vernon is well known as an excellent, award-winning fantasy artist, and Black Dogs shows that she can write at the same high level of quality. Yes, a sequel (or another novel set in the same fantasy world), please!

Watership Down DreamKeepers, Vol. 1 Travels of Thelonius Three Bags Full
Black Dogs, Book One We the Underpeople Joined in Mind and Body Cat Pay the Devil

Title: We the Underpeople
Author: Cordwainer Smith
Publisher: Baen Books (NYC), Dec 2006
ISBN: 1-4165-2095-3
Trade paperback, xiii + 463 [+ 2] pages, USD $15.00

   This is a new book, but every Furry fan should have read these stories long ago. Humans have bioengineered animals into intelligent anthropomorphic underpeople to be their new labor/slave class, and the underpeople fight for equality and freedom. It’s one of the oldest clichés in Furry literature, but every cliché had to start somewhere. This is it.
   Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, 1913-1966) wrote his stories of the underpeople, the bioengineered animal servants of mankind in the distant future, forty years ago. They have been published in a variety of editions; most, sadly, after his death. Norstrilia, his one novel (1960), was first published as he wrote it in 1975. His shorter stories of the underpeople appeared in print first, in s-f magazines during the early 1960s. In 1993 and 1994 NESFA Press published all of Smith’s s-f in two volumes; The Rediscovery of Man; the Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith, and Norstrilia. If you have read them, you have read all the fiction in We the Underpeople. If you have not, get this book because it contains all the stories related to the underpeople in a single volume; Norstrilia and five short stories which precede it. There is also a new six-page Introduction by Robert Silverberg. We could not ask for these classic stories in a handier format.
   In the really far future, more than fifteen thousand years from now, the planets of the whole galaxy share a civilization loosely known as the Instrumentality of Mankind, unofficially but actually ruled by the benevolent yet ruthless Lords of the Instrumentality. The Lords created the underpeople so that all men would never have to work again:

   Ever since mankind had gone through the Rediscovery of Man, bringing back governments, money, newspapers, national languages, sickness, and occasional death, there had been the problem of the underpeople—people who were not human, but merely humanly shaped from the stock of Earth animals. They could speak, sing, read, write, work, love, and die; but they were not covered by human law, which simply defined them as ‘homunculi’ and gave them a legal status close to animals or robots. Real people from off-world were always called ‘hominids’.
   Most of the underpeople did their jobs and accepted their half-slave status without question.
[…] Human beings and hominids had lived so long in an affluent society that they did not know what it meant to be poor. But the Lords of the Instrumentality had decreed that underpeople—derived from animal stock—should live under the economics of the Ancient World; they had to have their own kind of money to pay for their rooms, their food, their possessions, and the education of their children. If they became bankrupt, they went to the Poorhouse, where they were killed painlessly by means of gas.
   It was evident that humanity, having settled all of its own basic problems, was not quite ready to let Earth animals, no matter how much they might be changed, assume a full equality with man.
(pgs. 181-182)

   Most of Smith’s s-f was set in his interstellar Instrumentality, but the majority of his stories did not involve the underpeople. This collection, edited by Hank Davis, may stretch the point by calling all six ‘underpeople stories’, but they do present every one of Smith’s works in which the underpeople are present, even if offstage.
   The Dead Lady of Clown Town, the first story of the underpeople in chronological order, is the tale of how the Dead Lady, Lady Panc Ashash, once a real human and now only a recorded memory pattern in a robotic body on Fomalhaut III, encourages the first underpeople revolution by introducing the misplaced human witch Elaine to the dog-girl D’joan and her followers in the forgotten Old City under the new soaring human city of Kalma:

    The underpeople, too, [Elaine] could see. They looked very much like people. Here and there, individuals reverted to the animal type—a horse-man whose muzzle had regrown to its ancestral size, a rat-woman with normal human features except for nylon-like white whiskers, twelve or fourteen on each side of her face, reaching twenty centimeters to either side. (pgs. 21-22)

   This is the story of Elaine and of D’joan and the tragic first underpeople rebellion, but it forecasts the conclusion of their whole saga in its now-famous opening sentence:

    You already know the end—the immense drama of the Lord Jestocost, seventh of his line, and how the cat-girl C’mell initiated the vast conspiracy. (pg. 1)

   The next two stories are marginal underpeople tales, important for their background. Under Old Earth, set just before the Rediscovery of Man, establishes that the perfection imposed upon humanity by the Lords of the Instrumentality is sterile and lifeless. Lord Sto Odin, almost a thousand years old, ventures into the Gebiet ghetto under Earth’s human cities and discovers that the shorter-lived underpeople, despite their flaws—because of their flaws—have a more vital culture. Although the underpeople are mostly unseen, Smith’s writing style evokes their passions:

    The beat and the heat and the neat repeat of the notes which poured from the congohelium—metal never made for music, matter and antimatter locked in a fine magnetic grid to ward off the outermost perils of space. Now a piece of it was deep in the body of Old Earth, counting out strange cadences. The churn and the burn and the hot return of music riding the living rock, accompanying itself in an air-carried echo. The surge and the urge of an erotic dirge which moaned, groaned through the heavy stone. (pg. 101)

   Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons, the mysteriously deadly orbital defenders of Norstrilia, shows that the underpeople are not the only animal bioengineering that humanity has done. It also presents the first clear picture of Old North Australia, the richest and most powerful world of the Instrumentality (hinted at in The Dead Lady of Clown Town), which will become so important at the climax of the underpeople’s story.
   Alpha Ralpha Boulevard takes place during the first days of the Rediscovery of Man, when mankind gives up its stifling, boring safeness to make life interesting once again. Two true men, Paul and Virginia, venture from their comfortable surface city into the top underground level:

    At first I thought he was a man, foreshortened by some trick of the underground light. When he came closer, I saw that he was not. He must have been five feet across the shoulders. Ugly red scars on his forehead showed where the horns had been dug out of his skull. He was a homunculous, obviously derived from cattle stock. Frankly, I had never known that they left them that ill-formed.
   And he was drunk.
(pg. 153)

   This is the story which introduces C’mell, the cat-girl who was as beautiful and as bright as a flame. Her skin was clear, the color of cream, and her hair—finer than any human hair could possibly be—was the wild golden orange of a Persian cat. (pg. 154) The story does not have much to do with the underpeople, but it does introduce C’mell.
   The final two titles are the short story The Ballad of Lost C’mell (20 pages) and the novel Norstrilia (261 pages). You could read the former alone and skip the novel, for The Ballad of Lost C’mell tells in outline form all that really happened. But the details—ah, the details:

    The story is simple. There was a boy who bought the planet Earth. We know that, to our cost. It only happened once, and we have taken pains that it will never happen again. He came to Earth, got what he wanted, and got away alive, in a series of very remarkable adventures. That’s the story. (pg. 203)

   How can anyone not read the details with chapter titles so alluring as “At the Gate of the Garden of Death”, “Anger of the Onseck”, “The Palace of the Governor of Night”, “FOE Money, SAD Money”, “The Road to the Catmaster”, “The Department Store of Hearts’ Desires”, “Birds, Far Underground”, and “Counsels, Councils, Consoles and Consuls”? The first half of Norstrilia is not about the underpeople at all; it is the story of Rod McBan—Roderick Frederick Ronald Arnold William McArthur McBan the 151st, the richest boy on the richest world in the Instrumentality. But rich people collect enemies, and Rod tries to escape by fleeing to Earth and disguising himself as an underpeople. It is at this point that he meets C’mell and becomes involved with the underground rebellion:

    He felt strange. He had whiskers like a cat, forty centimeters long, growing out of his upper lip, about twelve whiskers to each side. The doctor had colored his eyes with bright green irises. His ears reached up to a point. He looked like a cat-man and he wore the professional clothing of an acrobat. C’mell did too.
   He had not gotten over C’mell.
(pg. 329)

   Nobody ever gets over C’mell. The other characters in Norstrilia are almost as memorable. C’mell, the most beautiful of the girlygirls of Earth. Jean-Jacques Vomact, whose family must have preceded the human race. The wild old man at Adaminaby. The trained spiders of Earthport. The Subcommissioner Teadrinker. The Lord Jestocost, whose name is a page in history. The friends of the Ee-telly-kelly, and a queer tankful of friends they were. B’dank, of the cattle-police. The Catmaster. Tostig Amaral, about whom the less said the better. Ruth, in pursuit. C’mell, in flight. The Lady Johanna, laughing. (pg. 206) C’mell is mentioned twice? Well, she is worth it.
   Kudos to Baen Books for publishing We the Underpeople. But bad cess to them for the cover by Bob Eggleton, a technically fine piece of generic s-f art which has absolutely nothing to do with anything that Cordwainer Smith ever wrote.

Watership Down DreamKeepers, Vol. 1 Travels of Thelonius Three Bags Full
Black Dogs, Book One We the Underpeople Joined in Mind and Body Cat Pay the Devil

Title: Joined in Mind and Body (Book One of the Kathterran Series)
Author: Kenneth Fox
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing, LLC (Charleston, SC)/Lulu.com (Raleigh, NC), Dec 2006
ISBN: 1-4196-5289-3
Paperback, 272 pages, USD $15.99

   This does not come with an audience rating, but readers had better consider it as X-rated to know what they are getting into.
   Andrew Foster is an amiable super-nerd, a top computer technician in Earth’s 25th century civilization. Earth has been part of the galactic Kathterran Alliance ever since the giant feline centaur-like Kathari were met 86 years earlier. The friendly Kats are powerfully psionic and are adept at using psionic energy for weapons. Since humans excel at spaceship technology, and the Kathari are experts at psibeam weaponry and shielding, they make natural partners in defending each other against mutual hostile galactic enemies.
   Andrew has always wanted to meet some Kathari in person, so he is stunned but overjoyed when the jointly-crewed warship Karenthis makes a special trip to Earth just to hire him to come aboard and fix a problem in the ship’s semi-organic Artificial Intelligence. The Karenthis is humongous, with over 20,000 Kathari on board (the size of the human crew is never mentioned). Andrew has known intellectually of the attitude adjustments that humans have to make to work alongside Kats, but it is a shock to encounter them himself:

   Kat pairing was another item that caused some issue with squeamish humans. Psionic energy didn’t come from nowhere. Kathari harnessed physical and emotional experience to create psionic energy. Creating energy from emotion meant that the type of emotion used to generate the energy affected the quality and side effects of the energy. Thus the Kats, millennia ago, took to only creating their energy from anything pleasurable and positive. Grooming sessions, sports and friendly competition, massages, and mating… all were excellent sources of high quality energy.
   Some humans didn’t deal well with the fact that the amounts of energy needed for extended combat in space and war situations required frequent recreational mating to maintain. Given that the Kathari already shunned clothing (it chafes fur), and were hermaphrodites, adding frequent sex for fun to the plate gave many purists a conniption. But it was a necessity. So Kats continued their history of forming psionic links between partners and forming working pairs for short durations.
[…] Sharing recreational sex with anybody they took a liking to was completely acceptable. (pgs. 7-8)

   She glanced up at him as they paused outside the door and reached up to lift him off Tyrin’s back. “Keep in mind that Kathari don’t get embarrassed about much or suffer from social taboos like humans do,” she told him quietly. “Unless you intentionally insult us, nothing you say or ask will upset us. So please speak up if you have anything to say. We can’t emphasize this enough to new people.” (pgs. 16-17)

   Andrew is assigned two Kathari ‘keeps’, Tyrin and Kelia, to help him get adjusted to the Karenthis. He is soon riding bareback on the giant furry Kelia (which he finds very sexually stimulating) throughout the ship:

   Andrew was aware of Kats looking at him very curiously as they rounded the bend to the right. He was also aware of a low rumble of sound that was growing louder quickly as they walked faster. “Hold on tight,” Kelia told him. The hallway suddenly opened up into a massive tubular structure.
   Andrew gawked. There were hundreds of Kathari here, all running along the tube. The gravity was maintained around the full circumference of the tube. There were Kats running on all surfaces, upside down or right side up making no difference. The traffic was separated by direction in stripes, but the overall effect was intimidating. Pounding paws made the rumbling, and Tyrin peered around the side of the entrance ramp.
(pgs. 26-27)

   The Kathari were huge. Even the smaller ones still stood over ten feet tall. He saw many body types, from stocky Kathari that looked like they were all muscle, similar to tigers back home, to lean and lithe Kats whose forms resembled cheetahs. Fur texture ranged from a fine sheen to thick coats and patterns ran the gamut of just about every possible pattern or combination of patterns that he could imagine. Spotted Kats, striped Kats, blotchy Kats, Kats in tan, brown, orange, black, grey, red, and white. Some were strikingly patterned, while others resembled housecats. (pg. 77)

   Since many humans cannot get over their emotional hang-ups about the constant Kathari nudity and public social mating, the Kats are delighted to sense psionically that Andrew is fully accepting of their lifestyle. And they readily welcome him into it:

   “Kathari greatly appreciate humans who appreciate us. And we’re not like the computer.” Her velvety tongue ran up his cheek before she released him. Huh… there was something the information at home didn’t say. They may look like cats, but they didn’t have rough tongues. (pg. 24)

   “Soooooo…,” she purred, “What to do about the clothing? You can wear it around in public, but the less you wear when we’re together in private, the more I can touch you.” Her arms slipped out from behind him and her hands slid under his shirt while her forelegs remained firmly wrapped around his thighs. “And the more I can touch you, the more energy we both get.”
   He almost began to purr himself in response as she caressed his belly and chest. The massage had been enjoyable, but now she was actively trying to seduce him. She was doing a darn good job! Her wrists pulled the shirt up higher and he had direct knowledge of her intent. Wow… This mind link thing made it really easy to know exactly what was going on.
(pg. 134)

   The Kathari are used to mating cat-style. Andrew, who turns out to be the first psionic human, is the first to get intimate enough to demonstrate human love-making to them. Since the Kathari are telepathic, all 20,000 eavesdrop on Andrew and his Kat lover Serina and want to try to imitate them:

   “This is Captain Sirelly. I’m well aware that cleanup’s completed and we’re on Beta Alert. Everything is running properly and all Kathari crew are performing their duties,” the captain said. Then his voice turned pleading. “But for the love of God, would SOMEBODY please call the bridge and tell me why the hell all the Kats on the ship are kissing each other at the same time again today?!” (pg. 176)

   Okay, is everyone straight on French kissing? Now here’s what we call a blow job … The sexuality scenes run from brief and comedic to extended and graphic; Andrew’s first passionate tryst with Serina extends from page 138 to 152.
   Andrew is not even aware that he is psionic when he boards the Karenthis. Within his first week in the presence of the psionic Kathari, he is telepathic, telekinetic, able to heal up to and including reattaching decapitated heads on bodies, able to teleport himself across the galaxy, make the ship’s AI fall in love with him, improve his own body to superhuman perfection, and have all the Kats idolize him… at this point you feel a neon sign flashing MARY SUE MARY SUE in your face.
   All is not perfect for Andrew, and the book ends on an ominous note to set up Book Two in the series. Joined in Mind and Body is mostly light fun, and admirably presents an alien society without humanity’s nudity and sexual taboos. Fox also uses language imaginatively, as when he describes a Kathari as ‘telekinessing’ Andrew to hold him on her back. But be prepared for many graphic scenes of hard-core sex between a human and the furry centauroid felines.
   This is the first book that I have seen from Amazon.com’s BookSurge publishing service. It looks awful! It is a standard paperback in format, but priced at a trade paperback level. It has one of the ugliest covers I have ever seen. Several pages have blurry streaks down the middle of the printing, and the margins are unattractively narrow. If CaféPress and Lulu.com can offer much more attractive books, why can’t Amazon.com with its much greater resources? Joined in Mind and Body would be a marginal recommendation at best; at $16.00 for such an ugly paperback, forget it!

Watership Down DreamKeepers, Vol. 1 Travels of Thelonius Three Bags Full
Black Dogs, Book One We the Underpeople Joined in Mind and Body Cat Pay the Devil

Title: Cat Pay the Devil: A Joe Grey Mystery
Author: Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Publisher: William Morrow (NYC), Mar 2007
ISBN: 0-06-057810-6
Hardcover, 295 pages, USD $24.95

   Two people were watching [Dulcie], two fat, fleshy tourists in shorts staring down at her, cackling with amusement. “What’s that cat doing? Reading the paper? What kind of animals do they keep here? Dogs in the restaurants, cats reading newspapers…” (pg. 18)

   In each new Joe Grey Mystery, it seems increasingly improbable that the talking cats of coastal resort city Molena Point, California can keep their intelligence and ability to speak a secret. Cat Pay the Devil, the twelfth in the series, features the three regular feline detectives—Joe Grey, the bobtailed gray (Russian blue) tomcat; dark tabby Dulcie, his girlfriend; and little long-haired tortoiseshell Kit—plus the three talking feral hill cats introduced in the previous Cat Breaking Free: white Cotton and big dark brown-striped Coyote (both toms), and female bleached-calico Willow, who return with full roles here. And in addition to the tiny group of human friends who are keeping the cats’ secret, the one criminal who also knows it, Greeley Urzey from Cat in the Dark (novel #4), is back:

   Them talking cats—he’d had his share of those snitches. Hoped they kept their distance, this time. (pg. 8)

   Greeley, a scrawny safecracker and conman, has spent the intervening years in Central America where he and hulking, brutal Cage Jones were partners in some crime. Now, after Cage has escaped from prison, the two ex-partners separately return to Molena Point. Greeley is following Cage hoping to find and steal his half of the loot, while Cage and his new partner carry out Cage’s revenge on the parole officers whom he blames for getting him a long prison sentence. One of these is now-retired Wilma Getz, Dulcie’s beloved human companion. When Cage and Eddie Sears kidnap Wilma, Dulcie and Kit try frantically to find her while Joe is off investigating what may be the beginning of a series of serial murders of housewives in Molena Point. The kidnappers bring Wilma to their hideout in the hills, where they are seen by Willow, Cotton, and Coyote who recognize Wilma as Dulcie’s human friend. The feral cats must decide whether to flee from the humans as usual, or help Dulcie whom they feel obligated to for rescuing them in the previous novel.
   As usual, there are problems of how to deliver the clues that the cats find to the police:

   Clyde [Joe’s human companion] dangled the tissue carefully by one corner, took a clean tissue from the box beneath the dash, wrapped the evidence in it, and placed it in the glove compartment. “This is evidence to us, Joe. But how do I present it to the law? What would I tell Davis?”
   “I don’t know. All I know is, Wilma was there, and recently. Could you say the smear of lipstick looked like Wilma’s, so you picked it up just in case?”
   Clyde raised an eyebrow.
   “Let me think about it,” Joe said. “Maybe I can come up with something.” He twitched a whisker. “Tell Davis you’ve been training me to follow scent, like a tracking dog? That I found it and you’re really proud of me, that it’s the same color lipstick as Wilma’s, and you bet if they ran the DNA…”
   Silently Clyde looked at him.
   “Guess that wouldn’t fly, either,” Joe said.
(pg. 137)

   The cats act much more anthropomorphically than just being able to talk. Would real cats, intelligent or not, be able to eat all the human foods that the residents of Molena Point casually share with them, especially the Mexican burritos, tortillas and enchiladas? Would real cats feel compassion for human strangers?

   But again, Willow peered around through the branches at Wilma, her bleached calico coat ghostly against the dark trunk. “Those men not only tied her to a chair, they blindfolded her. Well, but she’s gotten that off! Good for her! But what do they want with her?” She looked hard at Coyote. “How rude Cotton was! We have to help her, we have to free her.”
    “I don’t—”
    “Just like Kit freed us!” Willow hissed. “It’s payback time, Coyote. Couldn’t Cotton see that? We have to free her before they hurt her!”
(pg. 119)

   Readers will have to decide for themselves whether the intelligent cats are overly emotionally and ethically human. One interesting early comment is that the three intelligent feral cats are part of a ‘clowder’ (pack) of ten:

   Only the wild little cats slipping stealthily among the rubble, only they knew where to find water, deep in hidden cellars and chambers beneath the fallen walls of the crumbling old estate: ten sentient cats prowling through the ruined mansion, wandering through its moldering interiors that now stood open, like ancient stage sets, the faded wallpaper curling down in long, dirty strips. (pg. 9)

   This is not followed up upon in this novel, so presumably the other seven talking cats will be introduced in later books in the series. It also seems a good bet that the two teams of three cats each, which are hesitant partners here, will work together much more smoothly in the future. The thirteenth Joe Grey Mystery, Cat Deck the Halls, has been announced for December publication this year.

Watership Down DreamKeepers, Vol. 1 Travels of Thelonius Three Bags Full
Black Dogs, Book One We the Underpeople Joined in Mind and Body Cat Pay the Devil

Anthropomorphic books for review should be sent to Fred Patten, at:
Golden State Colonial Convalescent Hospital, 10830 Oxnard Street, North Hollywood, CA, 91606

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