Clea Simon is the Boston Globe-bestselling author of 20 traditional/cozy and pet noir mysteries in the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, Pru Marlowe, and Blackie and Care series. A former journalist, Clea lives in Massachusetts, and although her books are getting darker, they still always include a cat. She’s not sure why. Learn more about Clea and her books at her website.
My new mystery, The Ninth Life, is a departure for me. For one thing, despite the cat on the cover, this book – the first in a new series – is not a cozy.
For a long time, I’ve been interested in writing something darker. Not a thriller, exactly, and certainly nothing in which people or, heaven forbid, animals are tortured. But moody. Atmospheric. You know, dark. Since all my previous mysteries are cozies – specifically cat cozies – I wasn’t entirely sure what that would mean. Except, of course, that the cat involved would be black.
Now, I’m known for writing “pet noir.” My Pru Marlowe series kicked this off for me with my bad-girl heroine Pru and her even tougher tabby Wallis. But although Pru and Wallis have some real noir characteristics – Pru drinks a bit and enjoys male companionship, and Wallis often alludes to her own shady past – the series is really a light, humorous take on the tough-talking 1940s molls and dolls of true noir crime fiction And my other series mysteries, the Theda Krakow cats ‘n’ crime ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll books and the Dulcie Schwartz feline mysteries are all firmly on the cozy-amateur sleuth spectrum (Dulcie also has a ghost – a ghost cat, of course – so add in a touch of paranormal).
But what I read is broader. On any given evening, I might opt to visit Venice with Donna Leon or the beleaguered 15th Century England of Arianna Franklin. And I’m quite fond of both the “tartan noir” of Denise Mina, whose contemporary Glasgow can be very harsh, and also Megan Abbott’s nasty girls. And of course everything I read feeds into what I write – we writers are first and foremost readers, after all. So it made sense that I would want to stretch out – to write a little more like the other books I read.
The big question, then, was how? Did I want to tackle social issues like Mina does? Or delve into the mean-girl world of Abbott? Could I write violence or sex? Could I even learn to curse in my writing (I’m afraid in person I have no such restrictions – especially when I’ve stubbed a toe or stepped in a furball.) Could I …? I wasn’t even sure what questions to ask.
I needn’t have worried. Because once I gave myself permission to “go dark,” Blackie appeared. Not only is he a coal-black street cat, a feral who has the scars and ragged ear to prove his toughness, but he’s the narrator of The Ninth Life. He took over, dictating what would happen – and how it would be presented. It helped that he speaks with the diction of a Victorian gentleman – he can describe the most awful events in an almost courtly tone. And, of course, he is devoted to the protection of his human counterpart, the girl Care. Together, they delve into a darker, scarier adventure than any I have yet written. But with Blackie in charge, I feel sure that things will work out fine.
The Ninth Life
Introducing Blackie, an unusual feline hero, and his companion Care in the first of this dark new mystery series.
Three figures, shadowy against the light. That’s all I remember from my past life, as I am dragged, dripping and half-drowned, from the flood. My saviour, a strange, pink-haired girl, is little help. She can barely care for herself, let alone the boy she loves. And although she has sworn to avenge the murder of her mentor, she must first escape the clutches of drug dealers, murderers and thieves. I would repay her kindness if I could. But we are alone in this blighted city – and I am a cat.
The past is an enigma to Blackie, the voice of Clea Simon’s dark new mystery. Combining elements of feline fantasy and cozy whodunit, The Ninth Life introduces this unusual hero and his companion, Care: two small creatures in a nightmarish urban landscape, fighting for their lives, and for the lives and memories of those they love.