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Diesel, the Maine coon cat, and his human, Charlie Harris, return for another adventure in Athena, Mississippi in Claws for Concernby Miranda James. Volunteering at the local library, Charlie gets approached by a man wondering about the entry in an old phone directory for Delbert Collins, which surprises the librarian because Del had been married to Charlie's Aunt Dottie. Bill Delaney eventually reveals that at the recent death of his mother, Sylvia, he found records naming Del Collins as the father he had never known. Sylvia had been married to Del for six months before the pair split up, and she didn't discover that she was pregnant until a month after the divorce, so Del never knew about the existence of his son.
Charlie is happy to meet a new relative, even if only a step- cousin, and considers inviting him to move in with Charlie's disparate group of residents: college student Justin, chemistry professor Stuart, and Stuart's live-in partner, police officer Haskel. Exercising caution, Haskel makes a phone call to find out about Bill, only to learn that the man was the chief suspect in a mass murder of four members of the Barber family, with just Elizabeth, the teenage daughter, who was staying with a friend for the night, surviving. The only reason Bill did not get charged was that his mother claimed he came home drunk, went to his room, and never left the house.
The next morning, Charlie goes to visit Bill in his seedy apartment and finds Bill dead drunk to the world. Then, later that day Charlie gets a phone call from the Emergency Department that Bill has been injured in a hit and run accident that, coincidentally, Charlie's daughter, Laura, and her husband, Frank, witnessed. True- crime author Jack Pemberton has been trying to get Charlie to help him solve the Barber family murders, so after this incident, Charlie agrees to participate in this project. His family has real reservations about his getting involved in a cold case murder, but out of respect for Charlie and his need to find justice and the truth, they each agree to support Charlie in his quest to solve this cold case.
I really liked Claws for Concern, which has a different sense to it than other books in the Cat in the Stacks series. In the other books, the mysteries involve more book research, but this book demonstrates the kind of research performed by oral historians. Since Charlie is an archivist librarian, he usually works with documents, which I love getting to see. But this book gives a good illustration of how people perform oral research. Charlie and Jack team up to do research into the 20- year- old mystery, and so doing they demonstrate to us research techniques used to interview people about past events and seek to confirm the truth of the issue.
The book shows us the main characters from throughout the series, but spending less time on the familiar characters besides Charlie and Diesel and instead looking at the new characters and suspects. Diesel proves himself once more to be a comforter of the sad and rejoicer with the happy. Charlie's first grandson has been born to Laura and Frank, and it is a delight to see how devoted this cat is to that baby, named after his grandfather. But one thing seems strange to me. When Charlie goes to the hospital to bust Bill, he has to find someone to "babysit" Diesel because apparently the car cannot be left all on his own. I am familiar with pet sitters; indeed I am serving as a pet sitter at this moment for my parents' two dogs and Amazon parrot while they visit with my brother and his family about four hours north of here. But I have never heard of a pet who needs a babysitter just for a few hours apart from its human. So this touch failed to ring as realistic to me as the rest of the series.
As I have mentioned in past reviews, the Cast in the Stacks series has fun in playing off stereotypes and showing such ideas not to be true in these books. Some of the most obvious examples are Charlie as the "Cat-man" instead of having a cat-lady. Diesel, the cat, behaves more like a dog than a feline. The chemistry professor is a flamboyantly gay man dating a more reserved police officer. Even the male author writes under a female pseudonym! These all come out in Claws for Concern.
One unique contrast is the audiobook has a female narrator, Erin Bennett, despite the fact that the book itself is written from Charlie's perspective. What I find especially curious is that I have not, throughout the course of the series, found Bennett's performance as Charlie to be off-putting in any way. Bennett has a naturally deep voice for a woman, and she really does suit this series, in conveying the mood and strength of the series. I am really impressed by the performance given by Bennett.
In sum, Claws for Concern does a double job. First, it entertains us with a creative and delightful mystery, one which should be 20 years in the past but has present day repercussions. But further, it shows us how oral research is done and how networking and picking up on details during interviews becomes crucial to this different type of research. One reason i have enjoyed this series so much, in addition to the wonderfully round as creative characters, is getting to see real scholarly research performed by experts. Claws for Concern does a great job of introducing us to a new style of research. I give the book five stars!
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