Sirius; ROAR Vol. 1; Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose; Ode to Kirihito; Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood; Coyote Season; Darkwing; and Cat Deck the Halls

reviewed by Fred Patten
©2007 Fred Patten

Home -=- #15 -=- Reviews
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Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood, Back Later Sirius ROAR Vol. 1 Ode to Kirihito Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose
Coyote Season Darkwing Cat Deck the Halls

Cover of the 1944 edition of SIRIUS
Secker & Warburg 1944 edition
Title: Sirius; A Fantasy of Love and Discord
Author: Olaf Stapledon
Publisher: Secker & Warburg (London), Jun 1944
Hardcover, 200 pages, UK £ 0/8/6
[ BN / Al / Pw ]

   I had not realized until I began to review this tragedy what a lumpy style it is written in. Practically the entire novel consists of long, blocky paragraphs.
   This is because it is the biography of Sirius the dog as written by Robert, the fiancé of Plaxy Trelone, Sirius’ human sister-lover. Robert is the only human to be told the full story of Sirius, and to enter into it towards its end as the third part of a romantic triangle so unusual as to bewilder all three of them. Robert, a RAF fighter-pilot during World War II, does not claim to be a writer, but he has to become Sirius’ biographer by default.
   Robert is drafted into this role when he uses his leave to track down Plaxy, his temporarily-missing lover, to a lonely shepherd’s cottage:

   I rose to meet her, but something strange arrested me. Interspersed with Plaxy’s remarks was no other human voice but a quite different sound, articulate but inhuman. Just before she came round the corner of the house she said, “But my dear, don’t dwell on your handlessness so! You have triumphed over it superbly.” There followed a strange trickle of speech from her companion; then through the gate into the garden came Plaxy and a large dog. (pg. 8)

   Then for the first time I took note of this remarkable creature. He was certainly no ordinary dog. In the main he was an Alsatian, perhaps with a dash of Great Dane or Mastiff, for he was a huge beast. His general build was wolf-like, but he was slimmer than a wolf, because of his height. His coat, though the hair was short, was superbly thick and silky, particularly round the neck, where it was a close turbulent ruff. Its silkiness missed effeminacy by a hint of stubborn harshness. Silk wire, Plaxy once called it. On back and crown it was black, but on flanks and legs and the under surface of his body it paled to an austere greyish fawn. There were also two large patches of fawn above the eyes, giving his face a strangely mask-like look, or the appearance of a Greek statue with blank-eyed helmet pushed back from the face. What distinguished Sirius from all other dogs was his huge cranium. It was not, as a matter of fact, quite as large as one would have expected in a creature of human intelligence, since, as I shall explain later, Trelone’s technique not only increased the brain’s bulk but also produced a refinement of the nerve fibres themselves. Nevertheless, Sirius’s head was far loftier than any normal dog’s. His high brow combined with the silkiness of his coat to give him a look of the famous Border Collie, the outstanding type of sheep-dog. I learned later that this brilliant race had, indeed, contributed to his make-up. But his cranium was far bigger than the Border Collie’s. The dome reached almost up to the tips of his large, pointed Alsatian ears. To hold up this weight of head, the muscles of his neck and shoulders were strongly developed. At the moment of our encounter he was positively leonine, because the hair was bristling along his spine. Suspicion of me had brushed it up the wrong way. His grey eyes might have been wolf’s eyes, had not the pupils been round like any dog’s, not slits like the wolf’s. Altogether he was certainly a formidable beast, lean and sinewy as a creature of the jungle.
    Without taking his gaze off me, he opened his mouth, displaying sierras of ivory, and made a queer noise, ending with an upward inflexion like a question. Plaxy replied, “Yes, it’s Robert. He’s true as steel, remember.” She smiled at me deprecatingly, and added, “And he may be useful.”
    Sirius politely waved his amply feathered tail, but kept his cold eyes fixed on mine.
(pgs. 9-10)

   At one point, when Plaxy had been saying that she often longed to see me again, Sirius made a more sustained little speech. And in the middle of it he went over to her, put his forepaws on the arm of her chair, and with great gentleness and delicacy kissed her cheek. She took the caress demurely, not shrinking away, as human beings generally do when dogs try to kiss them. But the healthy glow of her face deepened, and there was moisture in her eyes as she stroked the shaggy softness under his neck, and said to me, while still looking at him, “I am to tell you, Robert, that Sirius and Plaxy grew up together like the thumb and forefinger of a hand, that he loves me in the way that only dogs can love, and much more now that I have come to him, but that I must not feel bound to stay with him, because by now he can fend for himself. Whatever happens to him ever, I—how did you say it, Sirius, you foolish dear?” He put in a quick sentence, and she continued, “Oh, yes, I am the scent that he will follow always, hunting for God.”
    She turned her face toward me with a smile that I shall not forget. Nor shall I forget the bewildering effect of the dog’s earnest and almost formal little declaration. Later I was to realize that a rather stilted diction was very characteristic of him, in moments of deep feeling.
    Then Sirius made another remark with a sly look and a tremor of the tail. She turned back to him laughing and softly smacked his face. “Beast,” she said, “I shall not tell Robert that.”
(pgs. 11-12)

   Sirius is the only successful result of Plaxy’s father’s attempts to create a dog with human intelligence and, hopefully, a human lifespan. None of the others have been more than ‘smart dogs’, not really dogs of human intelligence as Sirius shows himself to be.

   Plaxy’s father, Thomas Trelone, […] work on the stimulation of cortical growth in the brains of mammals was begun while he was merely a brilliant young research worker, and it was subsequently carried on in strict secrecy. […] Thus it was that for many years his experiments were known only to a few of his most intimate professional colleagues in Cambridge, and to his wife, who had a part to play in them. (pgs. 13-14)

   After experimenting for many years on different animals, Trelone settles upon dogs because, Nevertheless, from Trelone’s point of view dogs had one overwhelming advantage. They were capable of a much greater freedom of movement in our society. (pg. 15) Trelone’s experiments are henceforth disguised as attempts to breed more intelligent sheep-dogs. He and his wife Elizabeth move to an old farmhouse in sheep-raising country near Trawsfynydd in North Wales to do this. Sirius’ littermates are indeed no more than the ‘super-sheep-dogs’ that Trelone publicly breeds, but Sirius is special. Trelone pretends to keep him as a pet, but within their home he and his family raise Sirius to be as human as they can. Their three other children are older brothers and sister, but baby Plaxy is born at the same time as Sirius, and an especially close bond grows between them. But what he [Trelone] did want was that Sirius should be brought up to feel himself the social equal of little Plaxy. (pg. 20)
   The novel is Sirius’ life story as dictated by him and Plaxy to Robert: Sirius’ infancy within their farm-home, his youth around Trawsfynydd learning the social differences between dogs and humans, his apprenticeship with a local shepherd as a very smart but still-disguised super-sheep-dog, his emotionally confused adolesence as he and Plaxy are separated by their maturing physical instincts, his rebellious rejection of humanity and embracing of his ‘wolf instincts’, his successful introduction to Trelone’s colleagues at Cambridge until he tires of being a show-piece, his shock upon discovering the worst side of human society in London’s slums, and the trauma of World War II. It is the war that destroys them all. The older children are all drafted for war work. Thomas Trelone is killed in a German air-raid, and elderly Elizabeth dies soon after. Only Plaxy and Sirius are left, and without the larger human family to disguise themselves within, Sirius’ super-canine efforts to keep the farm running and the unnatural relationship between him and Plaxy become the gossip of the North Wales district. Sirius is accused of being Satanic or a Nazi spy, which are too extreme for any but the most credulous to listen to; but the close emotional relationship between the adolescent girl and the dog are too obvious and scandalous to ignore.
   The novel focuses upon two principal themes; Sirius’ intellectual and emotional attempts to understand his existence as a ‘missing link’ between human and animal society, and the relationship between himself and Plaxy:

   On the morning of her departure [for boarding school] she happened to meet Sirius alone on the landing. She surprised him by dropping her bundle of clothes and kneeling down to hug him. With schoolgirl sentimentality but with underlying sincerity of feeling, she said, “Whatever becomes of me I shall always belong to you. Even when I have been unkind to you I belong to you. Even if—even if I fall in love with someone and marry him some day, I shall belong to you. Why did I not know it properly until today?” He said, “It is I that am yours until I die. I have known it ever so long—since I bit you.” Looking into his grey eyes and fondling the dense growth on his shoulder, she said, “We are bound to hurt one another so much, again and again. We are so terribly different.” “Yes,” he said, “but the more different, the more lovely the loving.” (pg. 56)

   Once Sirius said to Plaxy, “The music of our two lives is a duet of variations upon three themes. There is the difference between our biological natures, yours human and mine canine, and all the differences of experience that follow from that. Then there is the love that has grown up between us, alien as we are. It has gathered us together and made us one fundamentally, in spite of all our differences. It feeds on differences. And there is sex, which alternates between tearing us apart because of our biological remoteness and welding us together because of our love.” They silently gazed at one another. He added, “There is a fourth theme in our music, or perhaps it is the unity of the other three. There is our journey along the way of the spirit, together and yet poles apart.” Plaxy replied with sudden warmth, “Oh, my darling, I do, I do love you. We are never really poles apart, not in the spirit, I do mean. But—oh, it’s all strange and frightening. And you see, don’t you, that I must be properly human. Besides—men can mean so much more to me than bitches can mean to you.” “Of course,” he answered. “You have your life and I have mine. And sometimes we meet, and sometimes clash. But always, yes, always, we are one in the spirit.” (pgs. 144-145)

   At the time of Sirius publication in 1944, it was almost unique; but there were some critical comparisons with Philip Wylie’s Gladiator (1930), the novel that was an acknowledged inspiration for the Superman comic book. Both novels are fantasies about super-beings whose strengths make them misfits among their own kind, and ultimately lead to tragic fates.
   It would be interesting to know if the British Stapledon ever read the deservedly-forgotten 1889 American novel Solarion, by Edgar Fawcett. The basic plots of Sirius and Solarion are very similar, but where Sirius is made plausible by a convincing discussion of scientific method and intelligent characters and dialogue, Solarion is a hysterical Victorian anti-scientific melodrama. Mad scientist Kenneth Stafford, a brilliant atheist (= Satanist, according to Fawcett’s portentious hints), steals a German professor’s notes on ‘experimental evolution’ by electrical means (ironically, since Solarion itself is so obviously derivative of Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus). Stafford electrically evolves the brain of Solarion, a golden retriever, who spends the rest of the novel whining about how he may be intelligent but, having been created by an atheist, he is a Godless, soul-less abomination who ought to be destroyed. Stafford gives Solarion to Cecelia Effingham, a beautiful society belle whom he schemes to marry, with orders to impersonate an ordinary dog and subtly promote his suit. But Solarion falls in love with Cecelia’s pure goodness and sacrifices himself (since he is a Monster and not good enough for her) to save her from Stafford’s lust. Solarion makes the plot ridiculous; Sirius makes it credible and a must-read for all ’morphic fans.

Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood, Back Later Sirius ROAR Vol. 1 Ode to Kirihito Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose
Coyote Season Darkwing Cat Deck the Halls

Cover of ROAR, vol. 1
Title: ROAR, vol. 1
Editor: Ben Goodridge
Publisher: Bad Dog Books (Amsterdam)/ (Raleigh, NC), Jul 2007
ISBN: 978-90-79082-07-0
Trade paperback, 277 pages, USD $19.95

Editor’s note: In addition to being available from, ROAR Vol. 1 can also be purchased from FurPlanet.

   The front cover includes a subtitle, ‘The Little White Book of Furry Fiction’. This is to distinguish it from Bad Dog Books’ FANG, ‘The Little Black Book of Furry Fiction’. FANG was started in September 2005 as an anthology of anthropomorphic erotic, gay short stories, and there have been three volumes to date. To quote its publicity, ROAR volume 1 was originally intended to be the fourth anthology in the FANG series, but enough non-erotic submissions were received to warrant a brand new product line from Bad Dog Books.’ Both FANG and ROAR can be described as magazines in a trade paperback book format.
   Is the format significant? Ben Goodridge’s editorial describes ROAR and FANG as the first anthologies to make anthropomorphic fiction available to the mainstream literary market. ‘Until Bad Dog Books, until FANG, until ROAR, until a reliable stable of writers finally decided that the time had come to provide a mainstream outlet specializing in anthropomorphic storytelling.” The argument seems to be that there may have been furry literary fanzines, small-press magazines, and online magazines for years, but none of these have really been available outside of the ‘furry ghetto’. BDB’s book format and ISBN numbers enable FANG and ROAR to be sold through and similar mainstream bookstores. Hmmm… maybe. The titles still have to become well-enough known for the public to look for them among the myriad choices on Otherwise ROAR will only theoretically be more of a mainstream outlet for furry fiction than, say, the online Anthro or paper magazines like Anthrolations or Renard’s Menagerie.
   ROAR volume 1 presents twelve stories, mostly from ten to thirty pages—the longest is sixty-two pages—by authors ranging from veterans of furry publications to new writers first published here. As fiction, all are well-written and worth reading. As furry fiction—well, the blurb says, ROAR aims to showcase the maturity and sophistication of furry fiction. Genetically engineered hybrids who are given slavish tasks by their human masters, alien races that appear curiously similar to species on our own world—and even stories that make no attempt to give a reason for the characters to be walking, talking, suit-wearing dogs and cats and marmosets, but use their species' more recognizable physical and social traits to craft very unusual stories.’ Too many of the twelve ‘make no attempt to give a reason for the characters to be’ anthropomorphic animals rather than humans, for my tastes.
   The best story from an anthro viewpoint is the first, A Close Port of Call, by Altivo Overo. When zebra dockmaster Mark Partine of Valden 4’s orbital space station meets visiting lion spaceship Captain Teftawn, he discovers that his ancestral instincts against predators are stronger than he realized. Should Partine consciously ignore them as atavistic and unrealistic, or is Teftawn really a threat to himself and his space station? This story makes good use of the bioengineered characters’ original natures.
   A Close Port of Call is the only story that seems inherently ’morphic, but several others have in-depth ’morphic settings. In The Clockwork Mind, by Fugue, college professor Elijah Hobbes (fox) is trying to build a mechanically perfect steampunk artificial intelligence while hiding a personal secret (no, he is not clockwork himself). The story is set in an intriguing early-Industrial civilization that is definitely not our world’s, written in a similarly old-fashioned style. Elijah is in a train with a jackal traveling companion:

   Then the admiral pulled a deck of cards from a pocket and played solitaire to pass the time, doing his best to ignore the pen scratches of his roommate. At dinnertime, a feline came in, holding out a tray of food for them both. Each of the canines took their food (hot soup, bread, and a slice of cured ham) with thanks to the chef.
As the feline turned to leave, she stumbled and a container of soup spilled onto the professor’s legs, his white breeches immediately turning yellow. The feline fell to her knees, set the tray down, and began to mop up the soup, profuse apologies pouring from her lips. The professor plucked the cloth from her paws and smacked her out of the way.
   Thulgrave leapt to his feet, but then froze. He had intended to stop Elijah from hurting the slave further, but the professor made no move towards her: his teeth were gritted together harshly and his eyes wide, while he scrubbed at his pants with hands clenched so tight that Thulgrave could see the outline of the fox’s carpals. The feline had shoved herself into a corner, trying to get as far from the crazed fox as she could.
   Thulgrave took a cautious step forward and placed his hand on the fox’s shoulder. “The stains are already in,” he said. “You won’t get them out.”
   “I know,” the fox said.
   “Then stop.”
   “I can’t stop.”
(pg. 35)

   The society of canid masters (foxes, jackals, dogs) and feline slaves is colorful; it is too bad this story is not longer to develop the background further. Similarly, Violet, by Stormcatcher, is a delicately touching tale of two elderly cats living in a vivid future metropolis:

    It was hardly a rich manor house; the two-bedroom apartment was one of many units in a towering skyscraper that stood near the center of the bustling metropolis. Hovercrafts of both the personal and commercial variety could be seen gliding soundlessly through the air at all hours of the day and night […] Mason Scoletti, a longhaired tabby feline who was also showing signs of leaving middle age behind, peered out the huge vista window that spanned one entire wall of his home office, a light and mirthful smile on his own features as he watched everyone go about their daily business. He squinted his eyes ever so slightly, and the floating lenses that hovered over both his orbs instantly moved his view into a close-up mode that allowed him to see the pedestrian’s [sic.] faces on the sidewalks below as they glided along to their destinations. (pgs. 99-100)

   Both The Clockwork Mind and Violet are excellent reading, and are full of references to fur, paws, twitching ears and swishing tails to make the characters consistently anthropomorphic. Yet they could be human just as well. This feeling is stronger in Dog Eat Dog, by White Yoté, set in a future touristy coffeeshop on Ganymede where a husky ruthless businessman and a ringtail cyborg industrial saboteur are making a deal to eliminate one of the former’s rivals; in Relativity, by Rincewind, featuring a bioengineered feline Pilot of a colony spaceship of cryo-frozen humans; and in Warm Exodus, by Alexander Wood, in which two wolf brothers from a primitive tribal culture must undergo the culture shock of traveling past an otter town (where one of the otters has long blond hair) and through a futuristic city to a space station.
   It gets downright hard to remember that the characters are supposed to be animals in such stories as A Song of Pandora, by Kevin Frane, where three apparently-average college students are a ferret, a wolf, and a husky. Or Hyperstream, by Karai Crocuta, where a jaguar has a fox brother. Or The Firelight (A Parable), by editor Ben Goodridge, in which the tribal werewolves could just as easily have been Native Americans.
   But the stories are all well-written. If you like good s-f in which most of the characters are basically humans who superficially look like animals, then you should enjoy ROAR, volume 1.
   I do wonder, though: If one of the goals of this anthology is to get mainstream literary markets to take anthropomorphic fiction more seriously, is it a good idea to present a book filled by authors with names like Redline, Fugue, Angelwolf, Rincewind, and others which are such obvious pseudonyms?

Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood, Back Later Sirius ROAR Vol. 1 Ode to Kirihito Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose
Coyote Season Darkwing Cat Deck the Halls

Title: Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose
Creator: Chas. P. A. Melville
Publisher: CaféPress (Foster City, CA), Mar 2007
Trade paperback, 56 pages, USD $9.00

   This is the fourth of Melville’s little booklets about the vixen Mage Felicia cla di Burrows, following Felicia and the Dreaded Book of Un (February 2004), Felicia and the Tailcutter’s Curse (June 2004), and Felicia and the Wrath of the Elder Glops (August 2006; reviewed in Anthro #10). This takes Felicia into a heretofore-unseen nation of Katara; the kingdom of Bananaland, home of the simian peoples.
   Felicia is invited to Bananaland’s capital by Count Bruno Sanob, a gorilla. As the Count explains:

    “I have been involved in the acquisition of several works of art for the new museum I have been building, but there has been a strong and anonymous opposition to my efforts. Several new commissioned masterpieces have vanished upon their completion, stolen in the night. And some of our promising new artists have been brutally assaulted. They’ve been beaten, threatened, and have had unkind things said about them.”
   “Assaulted?” Felicia frowned. She tipped her head thoughtfully as her pointed ears swiveled in a slow circle. “How bad
was their art?” She turned to study the contents of the sitting room; which, in true Banalian decadence, was detailed to exhaustion, and had filled every square inch of all available surface areas with illustrations and designs of various styles and tastes. (pgs. 14-15)

   Only the newly commissioned paintings are being stolen from the museum, without any other pattern as to artist, art style, or value. And some of the threatened artists have actually been murdered, apparently by the sinister Cult of the Rubber Nose, a guild of professional assassins whose notorious disguise-uniforms are as clowns or mimes. The Royal Investigators, whose duty it is to solve such crimes, are openly afraid to antagonize the deadly cult. Felicia accepts the commission to solve the mystery, starting by protecting one of the artists who has not been attacked yet, a neurotic and temperamental spider monkey named DaHickey.
   Felicia is just in time to save DaHickey from being attacked in his studio by malevolent balloon animals:

    Huge, bulbous beasts of bright, cheery colors came bobbing into the room, borne aloft by the night breeze, baring sharp teeth and needlelike claws of bright white rubber. They were grotesque, with necks and limbs twisted in large knots around their torsos in abnormal contortions. Growling and squeaking of dark menace, they drifted in the lazy breeze, rotating slowly to face their prey. (pg. 28)

   Felicia disposes of the balloon animals easily enough (no, not as easily as just popping them), but when she and DaHickey escape outside into the nearby woods, they are confronted by over two dozen of the costumed clowns and ninja-mimes:

   The revealed assassins took exaggerated stances as they stood in a circle around their prey. In fact, every move they made was greatly exaggerated, their movements broad and wild. Most held out their hands as though holding swords in them; one pantomimed drawing a bow. DaHickey stood dumb and watched the bizarre attack. Felicia reached out and knocked him aside. “Get down!” she commanded, and as the monkey tumbled backward he saw the one mime let his imaginary shaft go, and he heard a distinct thunk in the soft earth where he had just stood. He was aghast to see a sudden tear appear in his cloak. (pg. 37)

   The mystery, which Felicia solves in a face-to-face confrontation in the Cult’s secret headquarters, is clever enough; and much more mundane and realistic than the hordes of killer-clown professional assassins. (For those who want gonzo comedies about killer clowns, nobody has yet topped Michel Yamada, the Lovecraftian demonic-yet-amorous overly-French mime with tentacles in the Japanese anime 1993-94 OAV series Combustible Campus Guardress. But I digress.)
   I may be complaining that this book-format novelette is not what I want when it was never supposed to be, but I wish that Melville would return to his original 1980s-‘90s concept of Felicia’s adventures as grim and serious. The only hint of that in the present story is an offhand mention at the beginning:

    “You’re too kind, Lady Felicia.”
   “Please!” Felicia rose
[sic.] her hand in a halting motion and smiled graciously, laughing politely as she did. “Just Felicia, if you please. My family titles are no longer applicable.” She said it lightly, but there was a subtle bitterness underscoring the words. “These days I’m just a humble sorceress, struggling to get by.” (pg. 14)

   These new deadly-yet-slapstick mini-adventures with Goth French poodles, demonic breakfast-cereal monsters, and now killer clowns and mimes, are good enough for those readers who never saw the earlier, much darker Felicia, but Melville is wasting the potential of his original story-concept. How about a full-sized Felicia novel, instead of these short and shallow comedies?

Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood, Back Later Sirius ROAR Vol. 1 Ode to Kirihito Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose
Coyote Season Darkwing Cat Deck the Halls

Title: Ode to Kirihito
Creator: Osamu Tezuka
Translator: Camellia Nieh
Publisher: Vertical, Inc. (NYC), Oct 2006
ISBN: 1-93-223464-0
Trade paperback, 822 [+ 2] pages, USD $24.95

   One of the most prestigious and prolific titles in furry fan literature is the Tales of the Blind Pig shared-world series, launched by Mark R. Van Sciver on the Internet in 1996. By 2007 there have been over 320 stories posted by more than four dozen writers, not counting those that have disappeared over the years. The theme is an alien disease that causes humans to mutate in grotesque ways, often by turning into anthropomorphic animals, and how this affects them personally and civilization in general.
   Most Americans have not known that this was also the theme of a massive 800+-page graphic novel seralized in Japan in 1970-1971, then collected into three volumes. Ode to Kirihito (Kirihito Sanka), by Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), was more restrained in its transformations, but was also more realistic because of Tezuka’s expertise as a medical doctor.
   Tezuka, who arguably founded Japan’s modern comic-book (manga) industry in the 1950s, is best-known in America for his juvenile fantasies such as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. But he created manga novels for adults as well; the graphic-art equivalent of mainstream best-sellers by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Michael Crichton. Also, Tezuka came from a medical family and went through medical school, getting a surgeon’s license although he never practiced medicine professionally; so he was able to write plausible medical and psychological thrillers. The fictional ‘monmow disease’ in Ode to Kirihito bears notable similarities to acromegaly, the pituitary disorder that twists its victims’ features into horrific masks. Two of the most notorious sufferers of acromegaly were Rondo Hatton, who cashed in on his disfigurement by becoming a horror actor in the 1940s, and Mary Ann Bevan, who became a circus sideshow freak as ‘the world’s ugliest woman’ in the 1920s. Both ultimately were killed by the disorder.
   In Ode to Kirihito, the extremely rare monmow disease, endemic to only an isolated mountain village in Shikoku, causes hair to grow all over the body, the skull to elongate into an animal-like muzzle, the skeleton to warp until the patient can no longer stand upright, and the patient to develop a voracious appetite for meat. It is fatal after a month. The overall effect looks superficially enough like ‘turning into a dog/badger’ that Osanai, the protagonist, theorizes that this disease is the basis for Japanese legends of shape-changing tanuki (raccoon-dogs) and kitsune (foxes).
   Dr. Kirihito Osanai, a young physician at prestigious M University Hospital, is the best friend and mentor of Dr. Urabe. The two are among the inner circle of its head, elderly Doctor Tatsugaura of the First Department of Internal Medicine. When a victim from the remote village of Doggoddale comes to the hospital for treatment, the staff’s attention becomes focused upon this almost legendary malady, of which only 223 cases have been recorded (although they assume hundreds if not thousands more have died unreported by the clannish peasants). Dr. Tatsugaura believes that monmow is a virally contagious disease, while Dr. Osanai thinks that it is an organic disorder caused by an unknown local toxin. Osanai writes up his hypotheses as a medical report, but before he can submit it, Tatsugaura grants him a month’s leave to go to the village and study monmow at first hand.

Panel from pg. 674; click on it to view the whole page in a new window

   Doggoddale is so remote that Osanai is totally isolated from civilization. He finds the villagers more hostile than distrust of strangers and superstition can explain. He is locked in a hut with a local girl, Tazu, and her father who has monmow. Tazu, who is proclaimed to be Osanai’s wife, comes to love him when he tries to treat her father who has been abandoned by the villagers to die. Osanai contracts monmow, but thanks to his medical training and research, he is able to cure himself before he dies or becomes crippled. However, he is still afflicted with the doglike skull and a furry body.
   All this takes months, without any word from M Hospital. When Osanai is well enough to try to rejoin the hospital, he learns that he has been reported as having resigned and his letters to his friends and fiancée were never delivered. He gradually finds out that Dr. Tatsugaura is planning to make himself the world’s foremost authority on monmow, and to parlay that prestige to election as Chairman of the national Japan Medical Association. He does not want Osanai’s hypothesis (which Osanai has proven; monmow is caused by drinking river water polluted by a rare soil in the mountains—he arrests the disease in himself by stopping drinking the water) to contradict and disprove his own. Tatsugaura practically ordered the mayor of Doggoddale to make sure that Osanai got monmow and died of it while he was there.
   Meanwhile, Osanai’s friend Urabe and his fiancée, Izumi Yoshinaga, have become worried by his long absence. When Urabe asks for permission to go looking for him, Tatsugaura instead orders him to deliver a report at an International Conference on Infectious Diseases in South Africa. Tatsugaura’s offers to make Urabe his protégé as long as he stops asking embarrassing questions are both heavy-handed and too tempting for Urabe to resist. While in Johannesburg, Urabe is invited to white-ruled Rhodesia to offer his medical opinion on a strange disease affecting some native miners there. Urabe finds that the new disease is identical to monmow. More shocking, he learns that his hosts are hiding the fact that a white woman—a Christian nun, Sister Helen Friese—has also got this “black man’s disease”. Urabe persuades Sister Helen (whom Tezuka portrays as more kitsune-like to Osanai’s tanuki-like appearance) to return to Japan with him.
   This synopsis completely ignores numerous subplots that take Osanai to Taiwan and Syria before he can get back to Tokyo; that follow Urabe and Sister Helen as they form a psychologically sick relationship; and that show Dr. Tatsugaura’s obsession to become the head of Japan’s medical organization, with the aid of his campaign manager who is Izumi’s father. There are strong religious undertones throughout the book, not only through visual imagery of Sister Helen’s devout Catholicism but to Osanai as a Christ-figure who takes on the sins of humanity. He is constantly tortured, abused, feared, and humiliated as a dog-freak, to the point of wondering if he should reject humanity and live as an amoral dog.
   The publicity for Ode to Kirihito emphases how the name Kirihito is Tezuka’s deliberate pun on the Japanese pronunciation of Christ. If Kirihito is Christ, then Dr. Urabe is clearly Judas; the devoted friend who is so morally weak that he cannot resist betraying him. Urabe vacillates back and forth between looking for Osanai and trying to complete Osanai’s medical report to uphold both their youthful idealism, and being tempted by the offers of material glory and wealth as Tatsugaura’s heir (including being given Izumi to wed). Helen is Mary—all the Marys in the Bible that you can think of.
   Presumably only the Japanese know to what extent this is just a medical s-f thriller, and to what extent it is a realistic portrait of the medical profession in the early 1970s, but Tezuka’s disgust at the tradition-heavy seniority and politics within the system is clear from the start:

    When the Director makes his [hospital] rounds, a parade of medical staff and interns trail after him like toilet paper stuck to a high-heeled shoe. A popular novelist once characterized this as a “daimyo’s procession”. (pg. 10)

   Ode to Kirihito would be a success if it were a straightforward medico-political thriller alone. But Tezuka’s artistic layouts are also impressively vast. They range from his usual cartoony art style to detailed realism—the mountainous landscapes of southern Shikoku or the cityscapes of Taipei—to surrealistic symbolism. When Urabe finally breaks down, his schizophrenia is depicted as his face disintegrating, his eyes, nose and mouth drifting in different directions as sharp knives plunge into his head (pgs. 376-378). Sister Helen is almost pathologically shy (which may be why she became a heavily-gowned nun); when she is pressured into appearing at a medical conference and disrobing, the doctors turn into hundreds of giant eyeballs staring at her (pg. 441).
   There are dozens of twists and turns in the plot, but to anthro fans, the main question will probably be how the monmow victims—the dog-men and fox-women—are accepted by society. The implication is that there will be no more victims; with the identification of the toxin, the polluted water can be avoided. But what happens to Dr. Osanai and to Sister Helen—read Ode to Kirihito to find out.

Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood, Back Later Sirius ROAR Vol. 1 Ode to Kirihito Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose
Coyote Season Darkwing Cat Deck the Halls

Title: Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood, Back Later
Creator: Ralph E. Hayes, Jr.
Publisher: RHJunior Productions (Lowell, OH)/ (Raleigh, NC), Jun 2007
Trade Paperback, 141 pages, USD $14.99

   As a REHJr/Nip and Tuck fan, I recommend this second album collection without reservation. As a bibliophile, I want to rake Hayes over the coals for it. There is the front cover (which admittedly does include the author’s name and a ©2007 date), a one-page introduction, a back cover with’s imprint, and nothing but the strip reprints. There is no title page or other information as to where this book was published. The front cover names the book as Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood, Back Later, while the Introduction refers to it only as ‘Volume II’. A ‘real book’ should also have a title page and its verso with the publisher’s name and address or other contact information, and a publication date since that might be different from a copyright date; so interested readers who find the book will be able to order a copy or previous volumes for themselves, and collectors in the future will have some idea of when & where this came from.
   With that complaint out of the way, this second collection of the Internet Nip and Tuck comic strip is recommended. It continues the escapades of Malarkey County’s redneck funny-animal cast from where Nip and Tuck, Book 1: The Bare Essentials (reviewed in Anthro #2) leaves off. In fact, it reprints the last two strips in the first book (January 11 & 13, 2005) so as to start with the entire ‘Church Barbeque Picnic’ sequence. It includes all the other strips (minus a few out-of-sequence guest holiday specials) up to June 1, 2007, the conclusion of the Rebel Cry movie presentation. This is 225 strips; fewer than in Book 1, but with more in a full-page ‘Sunday’ format rather than a daily newspaper strip format. You will get your full money’s worth.
   Hayes’ goal has been to present a realistic presentation (within the scope of funny-animal fantasy exaggeration) of life in the rural ‘hillbilly’ or ‘redneck’ areas of America, as opposed to the illiterate or moronic comic-strip caricatures of Li’l Abner or Snuffy Smith. The first book, containing the first four years’ worth of Nip and Tuck, established the personalities and relationships of the main characters; notably the fox brothers Nip and Tuck Todd, and Tuck’s girlfriend, Thelma Possum. The Church Picnic sequence segues into Tuck’s insistence that Thelly enter a Modeling/Beauty Contest to bolster her low self-esteem; to their horror, the contest turns out to be a scam for a pornography ring. A minor background character up to now becomes a major star as the mystery talk show hostess, Belle On the Air, of Malarkey County’s WSOU radio station. Hortense Lizard introduces Thelma to wig-shopping at The Unique Boutique. Token Liberal Democrat Gilly Gopher is as pompously empty-headed as ever, and the pre-teen boys Tagger Beaver and Eugene Possum are still feuding.
   There are many other minor story arcs and stand-alone gags—anime fans will enjoy the revelation that Beebee Bunny of Pop’s Auto Girls used to be ‘Magical Princess Usagi’ (although no real anime TV series was ever a hit that only had 12 episodes)—but the book’s major theme begins when Nip’s stunt-man credentials get him a tryout for an action movie being filmed in Malarkey County. He is picked to be its star—and we all know that legitimate movie productions do not suddenly promote a minor stunt man to play the main character. This leads to a story arc in which Nip (as Hayes’ mouthpiece) gets to rant against equally power-abusive Hollywood entertainment management and unions. He takes charge in leading the movie’s seriously unhappy actors and production crew to turn obnoxious director hippo Michael Moby’s “anti-American, limo Liberal piece o’ crap” script into a pro-American, anti-Islamic Terrorist picture behind his back. Man on the Border is visually summarized in 21 full pages as a Bruce Willis-Chuck Norris-type action thriller starring Nip, with lots of explosions & terrorists (no ninjas, though). This first ‘Purloined Letter Production’ is a big enough success to lead to Nip’s second big feature, the space opera Rebel Cry—“S’more of a Firefly kinda thing…”—which fills the last 51 pages of the volume.
   Hayes says in one of the book’s annotations that Nip’s movie-star status with which the volume ends was not planned; the story just went in that direction—and the stardom will probably not last. It seems silly to criticize a funny-animal strip for being unrealistic, but the ease with which Nip and the whole cast & production crew hijack a feature film from its director without his noticing until its premiere screening is not very convincing, even if Moby is supposed to be a typical completely-incompetent Liberal Democrat. But he is portrayed as such a repellant slob that the conspiracy against him is emotionally satisfying. A note of minor interest is the appearance in the strip of April 19, 2006 of Nip’s first movie fan, teen cocker spaniel Lucy, with her younger sister Maggie. The two had first appeared in Hayes’ Goblin Hollow strip six months earlier, making this the first evidence that the Nip and Tuck and Goblin Hollow strips are set in the same world.
   It was two years and a couple of months from the publication of Book 1 to Volume II, so we should expect Hayes’ third Nip and Tuck album sometime about mid-2009. The wait would be a lot harder if we couldn’t follow the strip regularly on Hayes’ website.

Nip and Tuck strip #591

Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood, Back Later Sirius ROAR Vol. 1 Ode to Kirihito Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose
Coyote Season Darkwing Cat Deck the Halls

Title: Coyote Season
Author: Michael Bergey
Publisher: Five Star / Thomson Gale (Waterville, ME), Nov 2007
ISBN: 1-59414-610-1
Hardcover, 307 pages, USD $25.95

    Deer and elk seasons come and go, but to a human with a rifle in his hands, it’s always coyote season. (pg. 21)

   This is officially a sequel to Bergey’s 2005 New Coyote (reviewed in Anthro #6), but it is more like a continuation of the first novel. You definitely ought to read New Coyote first to get to know all the characters and their backgrounds.
   Coyote Season does take the story, after a long start, in a sharp new direction. New Coyote is set entirely around the lushly green Wynoochee Valley in the Pacific Northwest. Coyote, who begins as a naïve talking pup raised by aging hippie-turned-farmer Monica ‘Mooney’ Sklarsen, gradually learns that he is a half-reincarnation of Old-Coyote, the legendary Native American animal spirit. He had been reborn without memories among humans in their modern civilization, to learn about the human magic called ‘science’ that has enabled them to take control of the physical world. Even without his memories of traditional spirit magic, Coyote is a powerful semi-deity. He learns to talk as a human child would, and gradually discovers how to use his innate supernatural powers through usually-mischievous trial-and-error experiments that sometimes endanger his human friends. Mooney Sklarsen is one of about a half-dozen humans who know Coyote’s secret, and help him pose as the seeing-eye dog of a blind orphan girl called Mouse, so he can accompany her to elementary school and learn basic science along with her.
   One of the merits of New Coyote is that its characters all react with intelligence. One thing that did not ring true about its climax, in which Coyote and his five Spirit Children cause a hostile sheriff’s car to oxidize instantly into a pile of rust, was that the authorities would so casually dismiss the event, only blaming the sheriff for carelessness. As Coyote Season opens, it turns out that the authorities have not ignored it at all. The government is very interested in what could cause an automobile and nearby power lines to disintegrate into rust within a few moments.
   Coyote is asked a couple of months later by the animal-spirit of Wolf to teach her the iron-rust medicine-song:

    “That’s a very interesting spell you’re describing. You say it destroys Iron shaped into any form? Like, guns and traps? And airplanes? Airplanes are the worst, now that the poison is mostly gone. We run until we can’t run anymore, but it doesn’t matter how far or how fast we go. There’s no place to hide on the tundra, when humans hunt us from an airplane. Sometimes they keep following and shooting, following and shooting until every one of us is dead. Until even the Pack is dead. The Pack itself—gone as if it had never been.”
    “Airpfflanes might pffe difficult,” I said. “I don’t think they have much Iron in them. Still, they must have little pffits here and there. Pffolts and things. And engine pffarts. I supffpffose the Iron Song would make one crash, even if it didn’t do much else.” (pg. 26)

   [N.b.: Wolf, Fox, and other animal-spirits can talk ‘good English’ because they are in their supernatural form. Coyote has a physical body’s limitations which give him trouble with human speech.]
   Coyote teaches the Iron Song to Wolf by demonstrating on the tractor of an unfriendly neighbor:

    I felt it too—sensed an echo of our Song coming back from the tractor. Iron was humming happily, calling to Oxygen with a new, seductively irresistible voice. Mooney has trouble thinking of Iron and Oxygen atoms as entities with feelings and desires, but that’s her way of looking at the World. There are other ways. (pg. 28)

   But two instant-rust phenomena are too much, and the area is soon crawling with investigators, local and federal. Coyote and Mr. Burrey (a werewolf stuck in wolf form; see New Coyote) make the mistake of prowling around the investigative site when nobody is around, and are caught on an automatic electronic night-vision scope and directional microphone. While the government is not exactly ready to believe in magic and talking canids, CIA agent Rick Molino quickly has the Sklarsen farm surrounded with new ‘friendly neighbors’ who barely pretend to not be spies, putting psychological pressure on Mooney, Coyote, and their household.
   In addition to having to invent a plausible non-magic explanation for the ‘rust bombs’ that the government agents will believe, and trying to control his rambunctious Spirit Children, Coyote has to deal with becoming a father when Lazytail, the semi-domesticated wolf who lives on Mooney’s land, has a litter of wolf-coyote hybrid pups; one of whom, Cowlick, shows signs of having magical powers herself. Coyote is really traumatized when Mouse, the blind human child whose protector he has been, wants to mate with him! She has learned all the Native American legends, and knows that Coyote has often seduced human lovers:

    “Mouse … Mouse! Stopff it! Pfflease stopff crying. I think all these human moral things are stupffid, pffut I don’t want to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you.”
    Mouse uncurled herself just a little bit. Her words came to me slowly; each one muffled, and reluctant. “No, you don’t hurt me. You pity me. Do you think that doesn’t hurt? You promised you would share me with Lazytail. When the right time comes, prove to me you meant it. Give me one of those magical babies you keep talking about. Then I’ll have at least something from you I can count on.”
    “Mouse, you know we can’t do that. It’s stupffid. You’d pffe sent away somewhere, and you pffropffapffly wouldn’t even pffe apffle to keepff the pffapffy.”
(pgs. 96-97)

   The situation deteriorates dizzingly after that. Molino blackmails Mooney and her ‘trained coyote’ into working as advisors for the CIA, then has them flown to Alaska to investigate instant-rusting of hunters’ guns and reports of what Coyote recognizes as the Wolf-Spirit. They have barely arrived when Wolf ‘saves’ them by instantly transporting them to Ukraine where she and Vuk, totem of the wolves of Europe and Asia, are plotting to save all wolves by exterminating humanity. Vuk: “Did your CIA send you to Wolf’s country? The KGB sends new humans to me all the time, and I wish they would stop. Siberia already has far too many humans.” (pg. 141)
   Then—but this synopsis probably already has too many spoilers in it. Let’s just say that Coyote is eventually literally eaten by a demon:

    Being eaten alive by a fiend from Hell is another one of those memories I don’t relish reliving. Part illusion it might have been, but to me it was real. There was the terror of being seized and carried helplessly upward toward that monstrous human mouth, the momentary, meaningless relief when the huge flat teeth failed at first to clamp down, and then the doubled despair of discovering that they were merely playing with me—coming down slowly to better savor my terror, to better savor the feel of my shattering bones and bursting lungs. (pg. 262)

   So while New Coyote takes place entirely in the Pacific Northwest’s beautiful Wynoochee Valley, Coyote Season skips to the Pyrenees, the Middle East, and other locales far from home as far as Coyote is concerned. It also escalates the threats from a hostile local school board to Federal security agencies, criminal scientific experimenters, and those who want to use Coyote’s powers to help them destroy the world. Coyote’s supernatural Spirit Child Cicéqi and mortal pup Cowlick have parts to play, and there is Mouse to placate. The shift from the lyrical pastoral modern-rural ambiance of New Coyote to a combination of James Bond secret-agentry and Stephen King/Dean Koontz horror-suspense amidst the real world politics of 1990-91 is abrupt, but Bergey handles it smoothly.
   Well, readers wanting a tightly-plotted novel may not feel the transitions are smooth. Coyote’s adventures shift from one to another rather like a collection of short stories strung together. But this is faithful to the authentic episodic tales of Coyote on which they are styled. Readers of New Coyote may be surprised by the new directions outside North America this sequel takes, but they will not be disappointed. There are hints of this being the middle book of a trilogy.

Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood, Back Later Sirius ROAR Vol. 1 Ode to Kirihito Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose
Coyote Season Darkwing Cat Deck the Halls

Cover of DaRKWING
Title: Darkwing
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Illustrator: Keith Thompson
Publisher: HarperCollins Eos (NYC), Aug 2007
ISBN: 0-06-085054-X
Hardcover, 422 pages, USD $16.99

   Kenneth Oppel first became prominent as the author of the Silverwing Saga (Silverwing, 1997; Sunwing, 1999; and Firewing, 2002), about the modern-day bats Shade and, later, his son Griffin. Darkwing is not listed as part of that series but as a standalone novel, set 65 million years in the past, when the first bats evolved around the Paleocene Era.
   Darkwing begins in a colony of what Oppel calls ‘pre-bat’ chiropters, close to bats but only able to glide, not fly, and unable to ‘see’ (echolocate) in the dark. But Dusk, the newborn protagonist, is different.

    Dusk labored up the trunk of the giant sequoia, sinking his claws into the soft, reddish bark. Pale lichen grew along the ridges; here and there, pitch glistened dully in the furrows. Warmed by the dawn’s heat, the tree steamed, releasing its heady fragrance. All around Dusk, insects sparkled and whirred, but he wasn’t interested in them just now.
   His father, Icaron, climbed beside him, and, though old, he moved more swiftly than his son. Dusk hurried to keep up. He’d been born with only two claws on each hand, instead of three, and hauling himself up the trunk was hard work.
   “Will my other claws ever grow in?” he asked his father.
   “They may.”
   “If they don’t?”
   “You’ll have less to grip and pull with,” Icaron said. “But you have unusually strong chest and shoulder muscles.”
   Dusk said nothing, pleased.
   “That will help make up for your weak legs,” his father added matter-of-factly.
(pgs. 3-4)

   Dusk is not the only animal to show a significant difference from his fellow species-mates. Carnassial is one of the best young hunters of the felids, an early mammal that eats insects and the eggs of the giant saurians.

    Sated, Carnassial fell back, licking the remaining fluid from his muzzle and paws. Panthera was watching him. Like most of the other hunters, she had savaged the shell, lapped up the yoke, but left the hatchling to die.
   “You do not want the meat?’ he asked her.
   She gave a shake, and stepped back, inviting Carnassial to feed. As he ate, he felt her watching him curiously, her stripeless gray tail whisking back and forth in agitation. Meat was not a typical part of the felid diet. But years ago, Carnassial had discovered that his rear teeth allowed him to shear meat from bones—not something all other felids could do, he learned. He sometimes wondered if his craving for meat had been with him since birth, or whether the eggs had given him the appetite. He glanced again at Panthera.
   “Will you eat nothing?” he said.
(pgs. 42-43)

   Dusk has grown up in a colony of hundreds of chiropters that live in the middle region of the tallest sequoia on an island of giant redwoods in the midst of a vast rain forest. The chiropters feed on the insects that literally fill the air, climbing up the tree’s trunk to the Upper Spar branch, the dividing line between their habitat and the birds’ realm above them, then launching themselves and grabbing all the bugs they can eat as they glide down to the Lower Reach branch, the bottom level of their domain, then climbing back up to do it all over again. It would be easier if they could actually fly like the birds instead of just gliding downward, but no chiropter can beat its sails as strongly as the birds can beat their wings. Yet Dusk has an instinctual urge to try:

   You are not a bird.
   His father had told him that during his very first gliding lesson—and a few times afterward, until Dusk taught himself never to flap, no matter how strong the urge. But the urge had never left him altogether. Some stubborn part of him still believed that if he could just flap, he would lift. (pg. 10)

   As Dusk’s chest and shoulder muscles develop, he does learn to fly. But he has to keep this a secret at first from everyone but his protective older sister Sylph, because the chiropters have a rigid society and differences are not tolerated. Both Dusk and Sylph are shocked when they finally learn that their paradisiacal home was founded in shame as a haven of outcasts. Centuries earlier, all of the newly-evolving beasts (mammals) had agreed upon a Pact to hasten the extinction of the rapidly-disappearing saurians that preyed on them, by seeking their nests and destroying their eggs. Icaron was one of the leaders of a group of chiropter pacifists who believed this was wrong, and were exiled. Icaron is tolerant of differences that are harmless or beneficial, but too many others in their colony who have grown up since it was started have the older mind-set that different = bad. They look upon Icaron’s permissiveness as just nepotism of their leader toward his son.
   Meanwhile, on the mainland the beasts have finally completed the extinction of the saurians. This should mean their return to eating insects or roots, but a minority who have developed a taste for meat coalesces around Carnassial. Even those who are willing to restrict their diets find that there are now too many beasts and not enough insects.
   You can guess that Dusk’s and Carnassial’s paths will collide, but the manner in which this happens is more complex and bloodier than either they or you can imagine. The story becomes almost despairingly tense as both Dusk and Carnassial find their expectations—Dusk’s for an endless continuation of the chiropters’ easy living on their island home, and Carnassial’s for a new order of powerful mammalian predators dominated by himself—thrown into chaos by unsuspected developments.
   Darkwing is divided into two parts, and while Part One is deceptively innocuous, in Part Two the surprises come thick and fast, and few of them are pleasant. Oppel points out in his afterword that his characters are fictional creations and do not represent accurate scientific research. Mutations such as the developments of flight and echolocation in bats and a carnivorous digestion in early mammals did not happen as cleanly and dramatically as this. But as for the gruesome, Law of the Jungle nature of the era when the last dinosaurs became extinct and the early mammals (and birds) battled to fill their biological niches, this is a symbolically faithful depiction:

    When he next spoke, Carnassial’s voice was a conspiratorial whisper, as though he didn’t want the hyaneodons to hear.
   “There’s no perfect world,” he said
[…] “There’s no homeland safe from predators. There will always be predators, and ones bigger than you and me. We must make use of whatever skills we have to survive. Freaks like us might have an advantage. Your ability to fly may be your salvation. I used to think my hunter’s teeth and strength gave me an advantage.” He gave a small, self-mocking growl. “Now I know I must be smarter and quicker to excel.” (pg. 356)

   Oppel’s text is enhanced by the many highly detailed and convincingly realistic wash drawings by Keith Thompson of the ugly chiropters, felids, hyaenadons, diatrymas, giant spiders, tiny but venomous soricids, and other denizens of this prehistoric era. For readers interested in the anthropomorphization of long-extinct creatures, Darkwing is not to be missed.

Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood, Back Later Sirius ROAR Vol. 1 Ode to Kirihito Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose
Coyote Season Darkwing Cat Deck the Halls

Title: Cat Deck the Halls: A Joe Grey Mystery
Author: Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Illustrator: Beppe Giacobbe (title page & chapter illustrations)
Publisher: HarperCollins/William Morrow (NYC), Oct 2007
ISBN: 0-06-112395-1
Hardcover, 343 [+ 1] pages, USD $16.95

   The cats who saved Christmas… (blurb) And the marketers have made sure that they will. The annual Joe Grey talking-cats mysteries have been published between late December to March from 1999 to early 2007. This thirteenth in the series has been moved up to October 2007, with a cheery Christmas-themed dust jacket and a cute chapter-heading illustration showing Joe batting at gift-wrapping tape. ‘[B]y Christmas, many copies will be already wrapped and under the tree,’ predicts Murphy’s website. Hopefully Joe Grey will not turn into an annual Xmas-marketing shill like the Grinch.
   The seasonal theme is nicely central to the plot. Pacific coast tourist-center village Molena Point, California has a large Christmas public display with a two-story-tall fir tree in its main shopping plaza. One stormy night, long after all the shoppers have gone home, a stranger with a little girl is murdered beneath the tree:

   The minute the law had gone [the killer] finished searching, made sure he had the billfold, the airline tickets and rental car keys. The child huddled away from him, staring at him white with shock. He didn’t speak to her. Rising, he rearranged some of the oversize toys so the body wouldn’t be visible from the street, then headed away through the plaza to the back, keeping to the darkest doorways and to the gloom beneath the small, ornamental trees. The cops would be back. Would most likely circle the block, checking again before they went on. He hoped to hell they wouldn’t walk the plaza, walk right past the tree to look in the individual stores. They would if they had any feeling of unease. He’d planned for more time. He’d have to hustle to move the body, he hadn’t planned it this way, and he hated to hurry. (pg. 7)

   The murder is seen by one of Molena Point’s talking cats who is prowling the rooftops above the plaza on her normal feline nocturnal wanderings. Kit races to the home of Clyde Damen, one of the few humans who knows the cats’ secret:

   Her yellow eyes were huge as she leaped from the desk, her dark, fluffy tail lashing and switching as she came racing into the bedroom and hit the bed leaping over Clyde wild with panic and fear, talking so fast that he could understand nothing. Before he could make sense of what she was trying to tell him, she was off the bed again in a froth of impatience and back onto the desk, where she hit the speaker button, shouting into the phone.
   “A dead man, dead with a shot in his head in the plaza under the Christmas tree and a little child in his arms scared and crying. Hurry! Oh, hurry, Mabel, before the killer comes back! Tell them to hurry!” And even as Joe leaped to the desk beside her, hearing the dispatcher’s familiar voice, they heard the first siren leave Molena Point PD, and then the beeping of a rescue unit careening out of the fire station. Kit’s eyes were black with fear, she trembled against him crying, “The child, Joe. The little child…”
(pg. 19)

   I am not interested enough to go back and compare Cat Deck the Halls with the previous novels, but it feels like the cats have become progressively emotionally anthropomorphized. At first they were only interested in saving their human companions or other human friends, for their own benefit or for the thrill of the pursuit. Now they have become positively humanitarian:

    [Joe] twisted around on Clyde’s shoulder, his whiskers tickling Clyde’s cheek. “It would be pretty neat if the kid did ID that bastard. To shoot a man like that while he’s holding a little child. That experience will sour Christmas for that little girl for all the rest of her life. I hope that little girl nails him good,” Joe hissed. “I want to see that guy burn.” (pgs. 60-61)

   The Christmas tree murder, and identifying the traumatized five-year-old girl, are only two of the mysteries. An intruder breaks into the home of Pedric and Lucinda Greenlaw, an elderly couple who are among the cats’ friends. Lucinda has previously enthusiastically supported the town’s small but modern police department, but this time she nervously does not want any police involvement, and she orders the cats not to investigate, either. Are the out-of-towners who rent a nearby house really behaving sinisterly, or is it just their imagination? When an old mansion and artist’s studio that is being renovated into an orphanage experiences break-ins, is the culprit a dangerous child molester or someone searching for hidden treasure? Are these separate mysteries or are they somehow connected?
   Despite the murder in the first chapter, Joe Grey, Dulcie, and little Kit do not take an active part in the investigating until almost a third of the way into the book. Then it is the formula as usual: the three cats uncover clues no human could find, then have to figure out how to plausibly get them to the police. Or they learn of dangers to their human friends and have to warn them without revealing their intelligence to outsiders:

    Behind Ryan, Clyde and Pedric were looking exceedingly uneasy. Lucinda, not wanting Ryan to become too interested in the abilities of certain cats, said almost cloyingly, “She sure did hear something, poor little thing. But to be fair, maybe she wasn’t warning me at all. Maybe she ran to me for protection. I think,” she said, “that we often misread our animals.”
    “Maybe,” Ryan said doubtfully—she might not know cats, but she knew animal body language, and Kit’s behavior had been a sharp warning, not a panicky bid for help.
(pg. 124)

   By this volume, the reader is expected to know or not care how Molena Point got its talking cats; there are no longer any synopses of past adventures. Cat Pay the Devil, the twelfth novel, had three more talking cats and mentioned several others among the feral cats in the hills around Molena Point, and I speculated that they would play a larger role in forthcoming sequels; but they are not in this one. Readers who are interested in beginnings are advised to start with earlier novels in the series; the website lists (and sells) them all in order. For those who are already familiar with bobtailed Joe Grey, his lady friend Dulcie, and little tortoiseshell kitten Kit, Cat Deck the Halls is a good standalone novel.

Nip and Tuck: Gone Hollywood , Back Later Sirius ROAR Vol. 1 Ode to Kirihito Felicia and the Cult of the Rubber Nose
Coyote Season Darkwing Cat Deck the Halls

Anthropomorphic books for review should be sent to Fred Patten, at:
Golden State Colonial Convalescent Hospital, 10830 Oxnard Street, North Hollywood, CA, 91606

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