Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Book Review: Parrots Prove Deadly by Clea Simon

parrots prove deadly cover
Parrots Prove Deadly

Pru Marlowe is just your average person living in a big older home in a small town, trying to get on her feet and stay there, maybe trying to run a little farther from her past and stay non-committal in a relationship, the perfect setting for a cozy mystery.

Except that she can hear animals speak, and she’s the only human around who can, and they always end up helping her solve mysteries she had not had any intention of stepping into, and the genre becomes…pet noir.

In Parrots Prove Deadly by Clea Simon Pru has been hired as an animal behaviorist to retrain an African gray parrot named Randolph for a new home – apparently he’s learned some pretty salty language from his elderly owner, Polly Larkin, recently deceased. He’s intended for a home with Polly’s son who objects to his children hearing “full of crap”, “ignorant slut” and worse. Pru admits she’s not as well-versed with birds as she is with other animals but she’ll give it a go.

As Pru begins working with the bird in Polly’s apartment while Polly’s daughter cleans and packs and argues with her brother, Pru hears a pattern in Randolph’s patois that broadly hints something was amiss around Polly’s death, and she notes the bird’s general stress level and his bald patches from pulling his own feathers with growing suspicion.

Pru’s special ability is based on the idea that animals can “read” us and understand our speech, not necessarily our verbal thoughts and sayings, but our emotional state and our intent, and unlike the humans around us animals will respond to the sense they feel from us as we interact with them in the same way they respond to the rest of their environment. But each of the animals in the story – her long-time feline companion Wallis, the parrot Randolph, the assistance dog Buster belonging to Polly’s neighbor, a Bichon named Bitsy who prefers “Growler” who Pru walks daily, a raccoon trapped by one of the human characters in the story and a ferret named Frank – has its own style and ability to communicate, from Wallis’s complete sentences to sensing the raccoon’s changing emotions and simple single words. While they also think and communicate in a running slideshow of images, Pru communicates with them in her own natural human language as well as simple words and visualizing images that correspond with what she wants to communicate to them.

She has, of course, the deepest relationship with 12-year-old tabby Wallis, with whom she regularly consults, and each of the animals offers her clues to the mystery she is trying to solve in her encounters with them. The clues are often puzzling, but as the story progresses they help fit the pieces together. In this way the animal characters are just as highly developed as the human characters, and the animals stay in character in the same way the human characters do.

Simon based Randolph on comparative psychologist Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s Alex, an African gray parrot “employed” for 30 years for experiments on animal intelligence, and used Pepperberg’s findings on parrot cognition and language skills.

The story is satisfyingly involved, taking interesting twists and sending the reader on side trails of conjecture about the involvement of each of the characters in the story and their possible guilt – including Randolph. Beginning with Polly Larkin’s death the story leads outward to involve an upscale condo development and the smooth-talking but suspicious staff doctor at the senior living complex where Polly had lived. The story involves a blind neighbor and an aide who had cared for both the neighbor and Polly, a few of Pru’s childhood friends who she’d rather forget, and Pru’s love interest who is also a “straight cop”, hard for former bad-girl Pru to accept, who is investigating incidents at both the condo development and the senior living complex.

Parrots Prove Deadly is the third in Simon’s pet noir series including both Pru and Wallis, all involving close communication with animals as an integral part of the story and a key to solving the mystery.

clea simon and musetta
Clea and her cat, Musetta.

Simon refers to herself as a “recovering journalist” and is the author of 12 mysteries, all of which include animals and nearly all cats, and three non-fiction books, including The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women. She lives in  Massachusetts with her husband Jon and is closely monitored by her tuxedo cat, Musetta.

You can find Parrots Prove Deadly on Amazon.com in hardback, paperback and in audio formats.<

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This review first appeared in the April issue of Pittsburgh PetConnections Magazine; the author sent me a review copy (but I would have read it anyway).


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From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Parrots Prove Deadly by Clea Simon

  • I must look her out!! BTW well done on being a finalist in the Petties! 🙂 Well deserved!

    Reply
    • Do, Carolyn! I’ll be reading more of her books too, especially with a few on audio.

      And thanks! Now I get to ask everyone to vote for me again, I’m never comfortable with this, but I’d love to give $1,000 to Frankie’s Friends.

      Reply
      • That’s why I rarely put CATachresis forward for these things (only once I think). Being a reserved kind of person, I feel odd about shouting about Austin’s little blog. It would mean commitment and consistency and being “out there”! lol

        Reply
        • And Austin might get a little put off by all the time you’d be spending!

          Reply

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