A Clutter of Cats is the latest title in Louise Carson’s cozy Maples Mystery series, featuring Gerry Coneybear, writer, artist, and interested neighbour who shares her big old house with no fewer than 20 cats. (She inherited the house and most of the cats from her aunt.)
It’s the month of May and Gerry is on holidays – gardening, investigating family history, and renovating the house – but the goings-on next door are not so pleasant. Gerry’s concerned about the actions of Shadow, the neighbours’ black Lab – he’s rather anti-cat – and even more concerned about the actions of Shadow’s owner, Roald, who is, to all appearances, rude, loud, and controlling.
Edwina Murray, Roald’s wife, on the other hand, is delightful, if just a bit eccentric. Or perhaps she just has a lot on her mind. She’s a bestselling mystery author trying to finish her latest book and figure out how she might extricate herself from an unhappy marriage without turning over half her wealth to her no-good, cheating husband.
And then Roald goes missing. And then he turns up dead. And not just dead, but murdered.
Carson, who lives just outside of Montreal, has fun writing this series of cozy mysteries, and a special part of the joy of A Clutter of Cats was deciding on the epigraphs to each chapter, each based on a meaning of the word clutter.
“I love etymology,” she says. “I spent a happy hour with the Oxford English Dictionary at my local library. The dictionary always includes usages of words through history, and I had the idea to head my chapters with some of them. The cat mysteries are my chance to enjoy myself, so I indulged in fitting an appropriate quote to each chapter.”
Writers talk about “planners,” who outline thoroughly, and “pantsers,” who go where the writing takes them, metaphorically flying by the seat of their pants.
Carson says she is a bit of both. “I usually have the germ of an idea as to who gets murdered but sometimes change who the murderer is partway through writing the book. I am more likely to outline the middle and end sections of books as my way becomes clearer. The one thing I have firmly in my mind from the beginning is the location – it has to speak to me and is usually somewhere I know well.”
Lovering, the fictional town based on Carson’s hometown of Hudson, Quebec, is a place she knows well. And having long admired the Greenwood Centre for Living History in Hudson, known locally as Greenwood House, Carson had a model for The Maples, and settled Gerry right in. After writing a dark stand-alone mystery called Executor, set partly in China, Carson decided to move somewhere more enjoyable.
“I found [writing Executor] so draining that after that I decided I needed more fun in my writing life, so I fantasized: what would I love to be and/or have? I would like to be young, short, cute, and inherit some money and a big old house down by the water in the village where I grew up.
“So the artist Gerry and her 20 cats came into being.”