Cat Conundrum, the lucky 7th Crazy Cat Lady Cozy Mystery featuring Lynley Cannon, a sixty-something cat shelter volunteer who finds more trouble than a cat in catnip. The story takes place in January, so I thought it a good choice for today’s First Chapters Blogpost since the new year will be upon us before we know it. The blustery winds, the chill landscape on the far West Coast… if you enjoy a good winter storm at the beach, keep reading.
For cat-lovers who like clean mysteries with a little bite to them. Cat tips, tricks, and facts at the beginning of each chapter.
Cat Conundrum, the 7th Crazy Cat Lady Cozy Mystery
Locked-room murders are being committed in sleepy little Long Beach, Washington. Sheriff Matt Boulder has no idea who is doing them, or why. The sheriff needs help, but when he calls in his friend, animal cop Denny Paris, Lynley Cannon comes along for the ride.
Sleuthing isn’t how the sixty-something cat shelter volunteer envisioned her beach vacation, but she can’t resist a mystery. While the officers pursue one line of inquiry, Lynley takes a different approach. Her only clues—a cat found at the murder scene and a rich man’s missing wife—lead her like pebbles on the shore to a scheme more insidious than fiction.
Can Lynley disclose her findings before she ends up in that locked room herself?
Praise for Cat Conundrum:
“Cat Conundrum is my idea of the perfect cozy mystery book. It’s totally clean, has quirky characters among its cast, has cats, and a mystery that takes most of the book to figure out. I highly recommend this cozy to all of you cozy mystery lovers! I can’t wait to read more!” —Christy’s Cozy Corners
The clues are all there… but I was totally surprised by the big reveal. It holds up well as a stand alone with everything you need to know about Lynley, her friends, and her cat obsession all included.” —I Read What You Write reviewer
EVERYONE LOVES A LOCKED ROOM MYSTERY.
From Agatha Christie to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Edgar Allen Poe, the intelligent mind of the reader rejoices at the thought of the impossible crime. Not only “Who done it?” but “How the heck did they pull it off?” Depending on the genre, it may involve magic, the paranormal, science, or merely a clever killer. But no matter how you look at it, you think, “What fun!” Right?
Not when it’s real life.
Not when you’re the person in the locked room.
The sea raged like something undone. From out of the hollow hills came the screech of an animal: a cougar or a wolf. A gull floated in the cold, gray sky above, a winged shadow against the cloud cover. A typical January morning on the wild Washington coast—I found the scene exhilarating.
My name is Lynley Cannon, and as a native resident of urban Portland, it had been a while since I’d traveled into the wilderness. My presence today was a gift, and I was prepared to take full advantage of it.
“Showtime,” came a voice from behind me.
I turned to see my friend and co-panelist, Special Agent Denny Paris, standing in the doorway of the lodge. As my eye traced the stunning lines of the grand, turn-of-the-century inn, I had to confess that maybe this wasn’t the backwoods after all.
“Ready, Lynley?” Denny asked, holding the door for me.
“As I’ll ever be,” I replied, pushing through into the cozy warmth of the lodge’s magnificent conference room. Dutifully I took my place on the stage. I straightened my glasses, folded my hands, and stared at the ever-increasing audience as they, in turn, stared back at me. I glanced at Denny. The young man with his fine features, cat-green eyes, and sandy hair curling from under his blue police cap seemed the epitome of confidence. I wished I had half his aplomb.
As I am an introvert, I was less than thrilled to be the center of attention even though I knew it was for a good cause: cats. I’m all about cats, and the Long Beach Cat Summit promised to be a top-rate event. The special agent and I had chosen to present on the subject of shelter cats. It had sounded like a good idea when we submitted the proposal; now that I sat in the spotlight, I was having some serious second thoughts.
Denny must have picked up on my angst because right on cue, he turned to me and whispered, “You look great, Lynley.”
I didn’t have a mirror, nor did I need one to know what I looked like: a tousled, slightly frumpy, sixty-something cat enthusiast. His compliment was a lie, but a kind lie all the same.
“This is an excellent opportunity to get the word out about cats in the shelter system,” he went on. “I’m glad I convinced you to come along.”
I smiled back, unsure whether I should thank him or do him bodily harm.
The panel hasn’t begun yet, I thought as my trepidation ramped up into near-panic. Still time to make a run for it. I could say I needed to use the bathroom; get a drink of water; retrieve a necessary item from my purse, and then go. Go go go! Denny would figure it out when I didn’t return. He’d make the best of it. They would never even miss me…
My attention was hauled back to reality as a big man in a black uniform lumbered up the steps to the stage. Though probably a bit over the perfect weight for his stature, he carried it straight and tall. His round face held a kindly smile, but his eyes, shadowed by the bill of his hat, were a mystery. Then he pulled the hat off. The smile broadened, and a pair of bright blues lit up as if he knew everyone in the place and was glad to see them.
The room instantly quieted, whether from anticipation of the show or the man’s magnetic personality, I couldn’t tell.
“Welcome,” he said in a deep, rolling basso that matched his figure. “For those of you who don’t know me…” He gave a little chuckle which was echoed throughout the room. “I’m Sheriff Matt Boulder.” The sheriff raised a self-effacing hand to the smattering of applause. “Thank you, thank you, but tonight’s not about me. No re-election speeches, I promise.”
He paused for another bout of laughter. “You kitty-cat folks are in for a treat. For our first panel of the day, I have with me Special Agent Denny Paris from the Northwest Humane Society. Special Agent Paris heads up a team of humane investigators—you may know them better as animal cops—for our Pacific Northwest area. Besides handling animal abuse and neglect cases, his team works hard to educate our kids about pet care and safety so they grow up treating animals right.”
This time, the applause was enthusiastic. Denny gave a courteous nod, but I was close enough to see his face redden. Maybe I wasn’t the only one who was nervous after all.
“Also we have Lynley Cannon.” The sheriff peeked at an index card in his hand. “Cat expert from Friends of Felines Cat Shelter over in Portland. Besides being a longtime cat shelter volunteer,” he read off the page, “Ms. Cannon fosters cats and has several cats of her own, including a registered therapy cat that she takes into assisted living communities. Lynley is here to tell us about her experiences.”
The applause rolled around to me, polite and optimistic. I gave a little wave and fiddled with my pen, hoping that when it came my turn, I wouldn’t freeze, pass out, or toss my cookies.
* * *
All went well. The hour sped past with Denny speaking about his investigations and me chatting about cats. People asked the usual questions. How many cats do you have? (Eight.) What’s it like to volunteer at a cat shelter? (Fun and exhausting.) How do you keep from adopting them all? (Willpower and knowing they will get a good home with someone else.) And the inevitable Why does my kitty pee on the carpet, linoleum, bathtub, pillowcase, or boyfriend’s new boots? (See your veterinarian to rule out a medical cause, then look for behavioral issues.) I didn’t freeze, faint, or embarrass myself with inadvertent bodily functions. In fact, once I got over the initial stage fright, I quite enjoyed it. I was almost sorry when it came to an end and Sheriff Boulder stepped up to the microphone once more.
“We have time for one last question,” he announced.
Several hands went up, but before he could choose, a man at the back of the conference room stood. Pulling the beat-up ball cap off his head, he choked it in his restless grip as he made a query that changed everything.
“What’s being done about the murder?”
All eyes turned, including mine and Denny’s.
“Now, this isn’t really the time…” Sheriff Boulder began but the man cut him off.
“I want to know, and I’d bet these other people agree with me.” The man gave a sweeping gesture. “We want you to tell us what’s being done. Now.”
The sheriff’s face went hard as granite, his expression unreadable. I looked from him to Denny, who seemed as surprised as I was. I must have heard wrong. There must be some explanation. Murder, here in Long Beach? In this sleepy little town? I sighed, reflecting back to a mere hour ago when my only concern was fielding people’s questions about cats.
Rats! I thought to myself. What was the world coming to? It seemed like everywhere I went, people were killing each other. But at least this time it wasn’t my problem, didn’t have anything to do with me.
A murmur ran through the crowd, and a second man rose. “Answer his question, Matt.”
The woman next to him stood as well. “Yeah, Sheriff.” She ran a hand across her brow. “We’re trying to raise our families here. We need to know if we’re in danger.”
“Hey, Lil,” Boulder said without skipping a beat. “I know everyone’s concerned. I am too. But really, I have nothing new to tell you. We’re pursuing all avenues, and as soon as I know something, you’ll know too. I promise.” He skewered the concerned mom and dad with an honest but definitive gaze. “Okay?”
Mom and Pop hesitated, then nodded and sat down. The man at the back took a little longer, but he finally uttered a clipped “yup,” and reclaimed his seat.
Sheriff Boulder scanned the room for any final hecklers, then turned and beamed at Denny and me.
“Let’s have a big hand for Special Agent Denny Paris and Friends of Felines volunteer Lynley Cannon. Our next panel is about fifteen minutes away.”