When Bengal Charlie, the Secretary General of the United Cat Nations, disappears under the most mysterious of circumstances, the suspects start quick-stepping into focus faster than — well, a cat on a hot tin roof.
In this ambitious paen to George Orwell’s classic allegorical tale Animal Farm, author dhtreichler weaves together a fascinating mystery cum cautionary tale in which dogs and cats are struggling to achieve a peaceful coexistence.
The narrator of the story is a Maine Coon cat novelist who invents a strong female protagonist, a hard-bitten Big Cat security agent with the improbable name of Amethyst Leopard. She dives into the investigation with fierce determination and begins backtracking the Secretary General’s last known movements.
The missing feline won a Nobel prize for his feat of negotiating a shaky accord between disparate factions of dogs and cats the world over. But it seems not everyone is ready to bury the centuries-old hatchet. Hit dogs — including a gun-wielding Pit Bull — try to take out Amethyst early in the investigation, but she perseveres, methodically putting together a long list of probable perps.
This includes an incredibly imaginative lineup of characters ranging from Dragon Li, the Secretary General’s ADD-afflicted personal assistant to Bull Durham, the snarling mastiff who heads up the uber-right wing hate group, the Society of Pooches and Cat Antagonizers (SPCA) — and a half-dozen other players who move into and out of the storyline.
The plot turns ever more problematic as Amethyst and her boss Luis Lyons try to keep track of this growing roster of POIs (Persons of Interest) who might have a motive for moving Bengal Charlie out of the way. This includes the outrageous possibility that bad dog Durham is trying to move forward with a secret plot to mass exterminate the estimated 75 million cats in the world. (In a nice touch, Bull always wears a flowing black cape with a blue lining — in case you had any doubts about his villainous nature).
Also vying for the reader’s attention are a few choice turns-of-phrase scattered here and there as the book unfolds.
Speaking of the crying need for a modern literary masterwork that will stand the test of time, the cat narrator yawns and says, “Naps are too important to miss over such a trivial thing as immortality.”
And, as Lyons begins to tire of the seemingly endless line of possible links, he says to Amethyst: “This is as fruitless as a giraffe-stripped nut tree.”
The novel’s clear homage to Orwell’s work is evident throughout as the author puts his cat and dog characters in anthropomorphic positions of authority that continually evoke images of Man’s constant need to assert dominance over one another and over entire racial and ethnic groups — often through deadly measures.
The book reaches its climactic conclusion after side trips to many places in search of clues, including several international locales such as Singapore (Amethyst is forced to ride in the hold — in a crate) and Chicago (where a kangaroo court finds her guilty of dognapping Bull Durham).
In between, the story alternates between a dawning realization of just what the wrenching societal consequences of the historic Peace Accords will be, and the many twists and turns that slowly build suspense and an ever-growing anticipation of the book’s big reveal: where is the Secretary General, and is he alive or dead?
Discover the answer to that question — and be morally uplifted into the bargain — when you read The Great American Cat Novel. We recommend it to anyone wanting to curl up by the fire with an innovative twenty-first century take on allegorical fiction this winter.