Pet Spotlight: Elaine Viets

Mystery Writers and Cats
By Elaine Viets

Cats are the perfect pets for mystery writers. They look fluffy and harmless, but they’re pint-sized killers.

Harry, the green-eyed tabby who is sleeping by my computer, turned into a deadly assassin when a mouse wandered into our seventh-floor condo. My husband Don couldn’t bear to watch Harry’s mean cat-and-mouse game. The third time Harry caught the terrified mouse and then let it go, Don scooped it into a dustpan, carried the mouse downstairs and let it loose in the garden. Fortunately, nobody on the condo board was in the elevator when Don had the rescued rodent in the dustpan.

Harry has a true killer’s background. He’s a former feral cat with a Dexter-like beginning: Someone shot his whole family. Harry and his brother were the sole survivors of the bloodbath. Both kittens were taken to our local veterinarian. Harry’s brother curled into a ball and never recovered. Harry did. I adopted him, and he’s been my writing partner for six novels, including “Final Sail.” Harry is a playful brown striped cat, but he’s permanently marked by his family’s death. He’s terrified of large white males and hides under the sofa whenever a Caucasian man visits. He isn’t as frightened by men of other races. We’re guessing that a white man wiped out his family.

Our other cat, Mystery, is a different kind of rescue cat. She’s a registered, pedigreed Chartreux who comes from a family of show cats. Chartreux are French cats known for their smoky gray fur and copper eyes. Her brother won a slew of ribbons. Mystery bit a judge at her first show (Editor’s note: She clearly did not want to be judged on her looks alone.) and ended her career. Her breeder spayed her and allowed us to adopt her. Don fell in love with those big copper eyes. Except for one episode of judge-chomping, she’s a gentle, loving cat.

But she is still a show cat. Her official name is Columbleu’s Unsolved Mysterie, and she expects to be admired. Mystery writer Marcia Talley was so taken with her beauty, she put our cat in her Hannah Ives’ novel, “Dead Man Dancing.” Marcia couldn’t call that cat Mystery. Chartreux names indicate the year they are born: They must have a certain letter of the alphabet. Mystery was born in 2008, a U year. Marcia named her novel cat Bella de Baltimore. Hannah marveled at Bella’s “woolly gray-blue fur and unique golden eyes.”

When our condo was damaged by Hurricane Wilma, Mystery batted those unique eyes at an insurance adjuster. This adjuster was no hardhearted stereotype. She was young, pretty and honored to have Mystery jump in her lap and shed on her suit. The insurance adjuster ruled that our old hurricane shutters, which had been dented by a flying coconut, should be replaced with nine floor-to-ceiling hurricane windows. Maybe the insurance adjuster would have given us the windows anyway. But we give copper-eyed Mystery some of the credit.

Let her relatives keep racking up those ribbons. Mystery won a $50,000 prize for us.

Elaine Viets has actually worked those dead-end jobs in her mystery novels, just like her character, Helen Hawthorne. Over the years, Elaine has been a dress store clerk, phone book proofreader, babysitter, telemarketer, bookseller, and weed puller at fifty cents a bucket. She is also the author of the Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper series and numerous short stories. Elaine has won an Anthony Award and an Agatha Award. She lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with her husband, author and actor Don Crinklaw. She can be found on her site, Twitter and Facebook.