Even if you adore chocolate, sometimes you want chips, right? And after a salt binge – for me, that usually means cheddar cheese rice cakes – I am dying for something sweet and spicy, like one of the diet ginger beers that are my total guilty pleasure. So why should authors content themselves with writing only one kind of book – or even one kind of mystery?
That’s a question I’m fielding a lot this month as two of my mysteries come out in the U.S.: Cross My Path with Severn House and Fear on Four Paws with Poisoned Pen. Both have cats, sure, but the first is dark and a little scary, the second snarky fun – as different as two cat mysteries can get!
In some ways, this less than ideal: Writing for two publishers means things like this happen, despite the best intentions (the UK edition of Cross My Path came out in March), and I worry that the attention I get for one book will detract from another. But I’ve been trying to see it as a positive. These are two such very different books, with different moods and, maybe, different readerships, they shouldn’t poach from each other. Besides, maybe the attention one gets will lead a reader to the other. Such possibilities for crossover are what discovering new books – and new readers – is all about.
To explain, Cross My Path is the third in my Blackie & Care series, which is set in an unnamed dystopian city. My protagonist, Care, is an orphaned teen whose sole companion is the black cat she calls Blackie. Having escaped from the drug-peddling gang leader who took her in, Care is trying to earn a living as a “finder,” or private detective. While she was with the gang, she had briefly worked with an adult finder, whom she simply calls the “Old Man.” He saw in her intelligence and character great potential, and he was training her in his craft when he met his end. In the first of the books, The Ninth Life, she solved his murder, and now she’s actually working cases, helping the vulnerable of her ruined city find justice – all with Blackie’s aid.
I call Fear on Four Paws a “pet noir,” but in reality this series is a lot lighter, with smart-talking animals and a heroine, Pru Marlowe, who takes no guff from anyone … except her even tougher tabby, Wallis. Pru likes animals better than people. She should: she can understand what they’re thinking and therefore she knows they’re a lot more honest than most of the inhabitants in her small Berkshire Mountain hometown of Belleville. In this outing, the seventh in the series, Pru is still stuck in Belleville, but at least while she’s there, she’s able to free an illegally trapped bear, and while the police (including her cop boyfriend) want to know about the human body found nearby, Pru is much more concerned about the poor bear … at least until a friend is set up for the murder.
With their disparate outlooks, these series have attracted different audiences. Some tell me they love hearing from Blackie’s viewpoint (he narrates his books). Others prefer the irreverent Pru. And sometimes the readers of one try the other series.
Is there blowback? Of course. One critic who adores Pru is a bit put off by the darkness of the Blackie series (even as she enjoys the cat). And it is possible that a teen who may see herself in Care might find the adult themes of Pru (all off the page, of course) boring.
But as I set both these mysteries free in the world, I am hoping that such readers are in the minority and that most will welcome the chance to broaden their range. To find a cat of a different color, so to speak. Whether that means risking a scare to go a bit darker with Blackie and Care, or to lighten up and laugh with Pru and Wallis. After all, I don’t want to live with just one sort of treat. Do you?
After three nonfiction books and 22 cozy/amateur sleuth mysteries, mostly featuring cats, Clea Simon returned to her Boston punk rock past last fall with World Enough (Severn House), an edgy urban noir. She’s going feline again this summer, with the upcoming black cat-narrated Cross My Path, the third Blackie and Care mystery (Severn House), and a seventh Pru Marlowe “pet noir,” Fear on Four Paws (Poisoned Pen Press), both out this summer, and a new witch cat series for Polis Books, starting with A Spell of Murder in December. A recovering journalist and Boston Globe bestselling author, Clea lives in Somerville. She can be reached at www.cleasimon.com