The Purr-fect Crime

The Cat Looked Back

A review of The Cat Looked Back by Louise Carson

Published on March 14, 2024

In Louise Carson’s latest Maples Mystery novel, we find out Gerry Coneybear is honeymooning around Ireland, England, and Scotland with her new husband. Back in Lovering, her friend Prudence Crick (Prue for short) is housesitting for her. The Maples, the large old house overlooking the Ottawa River Gerry inherited from her aunt Maggie, is also home to twenty cats, who all live more or less peacefully according to a well-organized feline social structure that paces Prue’s days. 

The Cat Looked Back
Louise Carson

Signature Editions
$17.95
paper
240pp
9781773241258

As a part-time housekeeper, she also works for other residents in the small town of Lovering, and in spite of the legendary discretion of this very good housekeeper, her curiosity always wins out. What really happened to Mme Ménard, and where is her cat? Who started the fire that engulfed the two townhouses, and whose body was found in the ashes? More recently, though, Prue’s also been thinking of making changes, big changes, to her own life.

Everything starts out with Mme Ménard having a stroke, followed by a house fire that engulfs two townhouses: the one in which she lived, and the home of Mrs. Lester and her son Walter. When Prudence asks Mrs. Lester about her hospitalized neighbour, she finds her answer quite abrasive. Did she have something to do with this? And then there’s the Coco Poco, the new coffee shop, not far from where all this occurred – how does it tie into these sinister events? 

Among the different narrators Carson uses to tell her story, the one I enjoyed the most is Mme Ménard’s cat, Luc (or Fluke, as he was originally baptized). While clearly a victim of transpiring events, the feline, with his eye-level narration, gives us a point of view not afforded by any of the humans involved, one fraught with clues.

But what actually takes on the largest role in the novel is Prue’s life. This backstory, which initially runs along the mystery, becomes more prominent as the novel progresses. Her short marriage, ending with her husband’s murder, has haunted her for years, though the guilt and shame associated with his bank-robbing activities are finally starting to dissipate. She starts to toy with the idea of reusing her maiden name, Catford. (Yes, the feline theme is never far away.) 

The handsome antiques dealer, Bertie Smith, might have something to do with this wind of change. He comes to visit from Montreal with their friend Marion Stewart, an elderly woman whose martini-laden straight talk has a way of evening out the terrain in the small town’s rumour mill. The two-week visit tests Prue’s nerves and heartstrings. Prompted by feelings for this new friend, could she be ready for something else? The visit also proves very useful in figuring out the true value of a key element in the mystery.

Throughout her novel, Carson layers and weaves several narratives that seem unrelated to the reader who, like me, has not read the five preceding books in the Maples Mystery series. In this one, Gerry makes her appearance in the form of emails only. From what I understand, it is usually she who takes centre stage. Could this indicate a shift in the series’ direction? 

It’s always a challenge deciding what to reveal and what to keep under wraps when reviewing a mystery novel. I’ll just add here that several layers will need uncovering before we figure out who is ultimately responsible for the fire and the body found in the ashes. But whereas I had expected the mystery and intrigue to take a front-row seat, I found that it was really Prue’s bildungsroman-like self-revelations that took up much of Carson’s novel. With a ghost story, involving her deceased mother and the help of a medium, let’s just say that Prue may finally be able to move on to the next stage of her life.mRb

Sharon Morrisey is hiding out here from her other professional life.

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