The Cat Saw Murder (1939) marks the debut of one of those little old lady amateur sleuths that tend to drive me batty now that I'm closely approaching becoming a not-so-little old man myself. But I found Rachel Murdock to be one of the better incarnations of a tired stereotype from the Golden Age. She may be seventy years old, but she's sharp witted, spry and risk taking senior citizen. She fits right into the mold of the Badass Biddy taking on not only a malevolent married couple who indulge in blackmail as a hobby but a crazed and violent murderer who will stop at nothing to cover up the crimes.
D.B. Olsen is one of the many pseudonyms for mystery writer Dolores Hitchens who is probably best known for two crime novels written under her own name -- Sleep with Slander, called "the best traditional male private eye novel written by a woman" by Bill Pronzini in 1001 Midnights and Fools' Gold, a juvenile delinquent caper novel that became Godard's cult classic crime movie Bande à part. In her early books written as Olsen she created two series characters Rachel Murdock and Professor Pennyfeather, most of which follow the template of traditional detective novels.
The Cat Saw Murder is a neatly done up puzzle of a mystery with some deft cluing, excellent characterization in the myriad beach hotel guests all of whom have multiple secrets, some offbeat humor, gory murders and a very neat surprise ending. The major clue that leads to the solution of the crime is not all that well hidden and I suspect veteran mystery readers will catch onto her extremely clever gimmick, one I've never seen used in any detective novel of any era. But for those who miss it the ending will be quite a surprise. It certainly is one of the best examples of the least likely character as murderer.
|Dolores Hitchens (in a rare photo!)|
Even if you hate the idea of a cat mystery I'd recommend you read this one both for its historical significance and for the story. It may have started the entire subgenre and it's not at all what would anyone would expect from a cat mystery.