Only the Cat Knows by Marian Babson (2007) [original title: Only the Cat]
This week's Forgotten Book is an offbeat take on the "gothic" trend that swept through the paperback publishing industry in the Sixties and Seventies, as well as being a cozy with cats.
Instead of a mansion or a castle, the setting is Friary Keep, a Victorian faux-monestary located on a large estate owned by shadowy industrialist Everett Oversall. Earlier in life Oversall had been tabloid fodder for his playboy antics; the antics still continue (there are a number of "nubile females" as pemanent residents at Friary Keep), but Oversall is now reclusive, shunning personal noteriety. So when his personal assistant, Vanessa, fell from one of the battlements on the estate, the episode was quietly hushed up.
What wasVanessa doing up there? Supposedly she was in the habit of walking along the battlements when she couldn't sleep and this time lost her footing. Vanessa, in a coma and barely clinging to life, couldn't be asked. But unknown to people on the estate, Vanessa had a twin half a world away who knew she would never been on the battlements because of her great fear of heights. No, Vanessa was either pushed or thrown off.
It was up to Vanessa'a twin to find out who had tried to kill her. The twin would go to Friary Keep, pretending to be Vanessa in the hopes of discovering her would-be murderer.
There, "Vanessa" meets a houseful of weird and seclusive characters: a writer who does not write, an artist who steals peacock feathers, an oily lothario whom no woman would look at, a mysterious old lady in a wheelchair, a domineering woman who runs the estate, and several others -- each with an agenda of their own. Besides who attacked Vanessa, there are many other mysteries: What had happened to Vanessa's predecessor? Who are the mysterious visitors who arrive by helicopter while the household is kept in locked rooms? Who was the person who committed suicide shortly after "Vanessa" arrived? What is happening to members of the staff? Where is the mysterious and elusive Everett Oversall? Who is Vanessa's self-proclaimed lover? Why is a monk walking the halls of the supposedly haunted Keep, built centuries after the monk's time? And who is the dead blonde lying next to a lifelike statue of a medieval monk? And where did her body go?
And, for a twist, Vanessa's twin is named Vance and he is the world's greatest female impersonator.
And there is Gloriana, Vanessa's angora cat who knows Vance is not her owner and who may disrupt all of Vance's plans.
Babson manages to juggle these over-the-top elements well, creating a loving homage to a pretty ridiculous genre. Despite my initial qualms, I kept reading. After the first few chapters, I suspended disbelief and went on an enjoyable ride through this strange world.
Marion Babson has written (by my count) 43 mysteries. Over the years I have read most of them. Only the Cat Knows convinces me I should read the rest.