A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lucy Lockett: Author Ngaio Marsh’s Great Cat of Mystery

A literary review by Miss Cuddlywumps

Black as He’s Painted, first published in 1973, is one of Ngaio Marsh’s later Inspector Roderick Alleyn novels. The story takes place in London and concerns Alleyn’s investigation into the assassination of an African ambassador at said ambassador’s own embassy. Characters include a larger-than-life dictator who happens to be Alleyn’s old school chum, a pair of perpetually drunk ex-colonists, servants with secrets, a shady neighbor, and a disturbing brother-and-sister duo who make and sell pottery pigs, of all things. The tale is twisted and involves treachery, racism, and revenge.

All that is very interesting and would make for a nice weekend read (except for the disturbing element of racism and some unfortunate remarks about the obese brother and sister). But the thing that makes the book is (of course) the cat.

This particular cat is, in my opinion, one of the Great Cats of Mystery. Her name is Lucy Lockett. She is a black cat with a white-tipped tail, and we first meet her when she has just been hit by a delivery van. Lucy survives and eventually insinuates herself into the life of one Mr. Whipplestone, recently retired from the Foreign Office and moved into a lovely home (the location of which just happens to place him smack in the middle of the mystery). This cat is no slouch: After no inconsiderable effort, she deposits a pivotal clue at her person’s feet, with Alleyn there as witness. Could the case be solved without Lucy’s contribution? Doubtful.

I admire Lucy Lockett not only for her fortitude and ingenuity, but also for the beautiful way in which her character is written. (I, Miss Cuddlywumps, endure the indignity of being written by She of Little Talent, who is barely able to string two words together in a way that makes sense. You see how I must suffer.)

Under Mr. Whipplestone’s care, Lucy submits to a veterinary exam “with utter detachment, but when at liberty, leapt into her protector’s embrace and performed her now familiar act of jamming her head under his jacket and lying next his heart.”

Lucy sits on the top step of their home with a “proprietary air.” She washes herself “with the zeal of an occupational therapist.” She mews and makes “ambiguous remarks.” (For the record, I have never made an ambiguous remark in my life.)

We see Mr. Whipplestone enjoying Lucy’s “nice ways,” which

“consisted of keeping a close watch on him, of greeting him on his reappearance after an hour’s absence as if he had returned from the North Pole, of tearing about the house with her tail up, affecting astonishment when she encountered him and of sudden onsets of attachment when she would grip his arm in her forelegs, kick it with her hind legs, pretend to bite him and then fall into a little frenzy of purrs and licks.”

Clearly, Ms. Ngaio Marsh knew a thing or two about cats. If only she had written a whole series of Lucy Lockett books…

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