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How to Wash a Cat: 10/28/12

cover art

How to Wash a Cat by Rebecca M Hale is the first of the Cats and Curios series. It's set in and around Jackson Square, San Francisco, California. The setting and it's emphasis on San Francisco history seem to be two details that either make it or break it for readers. Let me be up front and say, I LOVED THE BOOK.

Now before I go into the review itself, you should know a few things about me. I am the daughter of an antique dealer. I grew up in a home very much like the Green Vase (including the occasional packing crate and odd home repair job). I have two cats. I live within sight of San Francisco. I used to work within walking distance of The Palace Hotel (discussed heavily in this book). My father had a friend who was called to building sites to appraise the junk dug up (usually glassware) for its historical value. So right off the bat, I share many connections with the unnamed female protagonist whose cats happen to resemble heavily the authors own cats.

Some negative reviews I read point to the protagonist's missing name. Frankly, I didn't notice. I was having too much fun exploring the tunnels with her to care what her name might be. So often now in mysteries, the protagonist is given an idiotic name — I figure no name is a step up.

Although Uncle Oscar's death (maybe by stroke, maybe not) should be the start of a whodunit type murder mystery, it really isn't. Even when the modern day criminal is caught, Oscar's death is left hanging. The author leaves open the possibility that Oscar might be faking his death and all his tulip wearing friends might be in league with him. In this regard, Oscar is this series's Robin Masters (who in Magnum PI originally was a separate character but quickly morphed into an aspect of Jonathan Quayle Higgins).

No — the real meat of the mystery was a historical one — set in the post Gold Rush days of the City. The two main characters are historical figures: William Alexander Leidesdorff and William Chapman Ralston. Their rivalry and their deaths have been spruced up a bit for dramatic license but their roles in building the city remain close enough to fact to either be fascinating (for SF history buffs, like me) or boring (for anyone not interested in SF history). The rest of the mystery is wrapped up on some diamonds, some historical cats, and a tunnel spreading from Jackson square, along the edge of the financial district and to the edge of SoMa (South of Market). While there are dozens of tunnels (and some are in fact abandoned), the tunnel in this book is most likely completely fiction.

Again, though, it doesn't matter. It was fun to believe there was a tunnel. Who doesn't want to discover a secret passageway? Apparently, though, not many reviewers. Our heroine, while afraid of some things, isn't afraid of tunnels. I'm not either. Like her, I'd be down there with a flash light (and my camera) to see where it went. Unlike her, though, I'd also be wearing a hard hat (just in case).

I definitely plan to continue with the series.

Five stars

Comments (2)

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Comment #1: Monday, October 29, 2012 at 09:00:21

Laurel-Rain Snow

This one sounds so good! I love SF...lived there for awhile in the 60s, and miss it. I always enjoy books and movies set there.

Thanks for the review.

Comment #2: Monday, November 05, 2012 at 17:29:30


Given your history with San Francisco, I'm sure you'll love the book.

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