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Review: 'The Unscratchables', by Cornelius Kane

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The Unscratchables
NYC, Simon & Schuster/Scribner, July 2009
Trade paperback $14.00 (259 pages), Kindle $10.99

This gritty crime novel is a parody with anthropomorphic dog and cat detectives. Oh, gee, we haven’t seen THAT before!

San Bernardo is their territory, a seething metropolis where fat-cats prance in the exclusive island enclave of Kathattan while working dogs wallow in the stinking squalor of the Kennels. (back-cover blurb)

Narrator Max “Crusher” McNash is the hard-boiled ace police detective in the Kennels’ Slaughter Unit, “a barrel-chested bull terrier with a biscuit-thin temper and a barbed-wire tongue.” When he is called at home at almost midnight to investigate the gruesome murder of two well-known Rottweiler enforcers at a wharfside slum, he figures that it is just the result of another gang war between canine hoodlums.

But the scent on the corpses is CAT – a scrawny alley cat who was only a witness, McNash can hope; not every cat in Kathattan is an executive-suite fat-cat mover & shaker. But the Basset coroner, Dr. Barnabus, puts the kibosh on that hope:

Barnabus looked extra-waggy now. ‘The evidence is undeniable. The tooth incisions. The claw marks. The MUSK.’
‘Musk,’ I tried to detect something, but all I could smell was the nasty stink from my nightmares. ‘You’re telling me this was done by a CAT.’
‘Undoubtedly.’
‘A panther … a lynx … a wildcat?’
Barnabus shook his head. ‘A house cat.’
‘No …’
‘Blood and saliva samples have already been dispatched to pathology. If you don’t believe me perhaps the official reports will convince you. The killer you’re looking for is a cat – a particularly large and powerful specimen, admittedly, possibly twice the usual dimensions.’
‘No …’ I thought of the ‘gut-clawing squeal’ Flasha Lightning had heard on the wharf … but I just couldn’t swallow it. A worthless alley cat victim was one thing. But a killer cat, on top of that, meant a major scandal. It meant a detective from Kathattan. It meant the FBI. (p. 24)

That’s the Feline Bureau of Investigation. The FBI special agent turns out to be Cassius Lap, a Siamese. Crusher HATES Siamese. A historical digression explains that Crusher, in his youth, served with the United Breeds troops in the Siamese war against the North Siamese, and was captured and spent months in a North Siamese P.O.W. bamboo cage.

Crusher is both infuriated and humiliated to become the junior partner with the supercilious Lap. They become a really Odd Couple team. But Crusher is reluctantly impressed when clues lead them out of the Kennels and into the feline heights of Kathattan, and Lap’s smooth presence wins them cooperation that the roughshod bull terrier could never have gotten on his own.

The Unscratchables does a fine job of plunging the reader into a dog-&-cat world. There are hordes of incidental characters with names like Johnny Wag, Bud Borzoi, Professor Thomas Schrödinger, Butch Brindle, Leroy Spitz, Zeus Katsopoulos, Barkus Bojangles, and Brian DePuma; historical personages like Moggie Thatcher and Napoleon Boneaparte and Catterine the Great; place names like Dishlick and Mongrolia and the Old Yeller river; newspapers like Dog Whistle and the Daily Growl; government agencies such as the Cat Intelligence Agency and the Office of Interspecies Carnicide. (And the Reynard Cable Network, which shows that cats and dogs are not alone in running this world.)

The Unscratchables is a popular TV series. There are occasional references to broader events in this world:

An electoral debate [on TV] between President Brewster Goodboy and Buster Drinkwater. Goodboy was a cat’s-paw, everyone knew it, but he’d win easily – I’d probably vote for him myself. Drinkwater used way too many big words. (p. 1)

All of the clever references do not get in the way of the serious murder investigation (despite ending the climax with a really horrible pun). For Furry fans who enjoy a good whodunit, The Unscratchables is an enjoyable read.

Cornelius Kane is a pseudonym. The novel is copyrighted in the name of Anthony O’Neill.

There is a 373-page hardcover Large Print edition from Thorndike Press for $30.95.

Comments

Your rating: None

I don't think I'll care for the story. It sounds like it's trying too hard to be funny. It's also got one ugly cover.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None

Oh my god, the puns, the horrible, horrible puns. As much as I love gritty crime novels I think I'll have to give this one a pass. Also Goodboy was a cat's-paw? Wow, now that's an oblique reference if I've ever heard one. I get that he's going for a theme with his writing, but a cat's-paw is usually a euphemism for someone who's being used as a political sacrifice, and using it as a possible throw away gag, that's just trying way too hard to be funny.

I think I'll go watch some old episodes of Jim Henson's Dog City, or reread Anonymous Rex. They might not be considered classics to some, but at least the thought of Vincent Rubio, dinosaur detective, tripping out on a bad batch of basil will always make me laugh.

Your rating: None

The implication is that President Goodboy, a dog, is a stooge for the feline political bosses and fat-cat magnates who really run San Bernardo. If it's obvious to everybody, he could be described as a cat's-paw. I am reminded of late 19th-century Republican boss Senator Roscoe Conkling (R-NY), who didn't want to become president himself; he wanted to become known throughout America as the wheeler-dealer who got presidents elected. So, of course, all his enemies lined up to support anybody-besides-Conkling's-candidates. (See the 1880 Republican convention in particular.) Conkling's candidates could be called cat's-paws for his obvious political interests.

Fred Patten

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About the author

Fred (Fred Patten)read storiescontact (login required)

a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics