What is it about the joining of felines and mystery stories that is so satisfying to readers and writers? I’ve been considering this as I draft my own cat mystery and I find myself thinking about why, exactly, it works. It’s a pairing readers never seem to grow tired of and writers are able to reinvent in ways that continue to capture an eager audience. There is a large market for cat mysteries and readers seem to want more and more.
I think because character drives stories and cat enthusiasts are something the world is not lacking we will always have cat mysteries. It’s a category that never seems to go out of fashion. Anthropomorphized cats make compelling characters for they are animals viewed as clever and independent beings. Traits valued in humankind. They are animals easy to humanize. And cat popularity is undeniable. Cat videos are some of the most viewed on the Internet, launching cat film festivals throughout the world. Cat cafes are so popular in Asia that the U.S. has jumped on the bandwagon with several opening across the country. By sheer population there are more cat pets than dog pets in the U.S. and this is because cat owners view our feline companions like potato chips, we rarely can just have one. It is fair to say that we as humans generally like cats. They have been our domestic companions since ancient times. But what makes them good book characters and even better sleuths?
I think common cat stereotypes lend to the intoxicating power of the cat sleuth. Perceived as intelligent, stealthy, and independent, these creatures were built to solve crimes—all traits we love in private investigators and amateur sleuths. A cat doesn’t seem to care much what anyone thinks, also an important trait for a fictional investigator. If a few social or legal rules have to be broken to solve the crime, so be it. Cats are up to the task. Breaking and entering, surveillance, eavesdropping, these are all believable skills for a cat to possess. Cats can get away with a little bit of violence in a way that sometimes dogs can’t, because they are small enough to not kill a man yet capable of blood-letting when necessary, cats are an equal match to any villain in intelligence and physicality. And, of course, a cat’s agility, flexibility, and grace make them parkour masters. They can get in and out of nearly any sticky situation, often unseen and unheard. Lastly, maybe not a common trait glorified of cats by all, but, I know cat owners will stand by me in my assertion; cats are fiercely loyal and persistent with their humans. If a cat sets its mind to a task it will be done and it will be done in devotion to their person.
Cats make interesting characters to write and to read simply because of their complexity. They can simultaneously serve as comic relief, as animals in story often do, but they are also capable which makes them able to help move a plot forward page after page. In life we already wonder at the mysterious complexities of these animals, so in story it becomes easy for us to suspend our disbelief. It is a wonder that I wondered at all why cats make ideal sleuths. As the saying goes: curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back. The mystery of humanity’s love affair with cat mysteries seems uncomplicated enough yet asking this simple question makes me champion these stories and our feline crime solvers even that much more.
Michelle Ladner is a writer and stay at home mom who lives in Vancleave, MS with her scientist husband, precocious toddler, and three worshipped cats. After obtaining a B.A. in English at University of South Alabama, she pursued her dream of becoming a published commercial fiction author. Still in pursuance of that dream and still writing, she enjoys travel, photography, overanalyzing motherhood, and ordering fantasy fandom subscription boxes. Beyond her writing goals, she also holds hopes for one day owning a tiny animal farm and a full-scale velociraptor statue for holiday decorating.