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.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Book Review: A Deadly Tail

You’ve got to love a book that starts with this line: “Let’s get this out of the way right now: My life is weird.” Even more, you’ve got to love a book that delivers on the tantalizing promise contained in that line. Weirdness, of the sort that Dixie Lyle consistently gives us in the Whisky, Tango & Foxtrot series? Oh yes, please!

Just so you know what you’re getting into when you read A Deadly Tail, we assembled the following ingredient list:

  • 1  ectoplasmic ghost dog, Whiskey, who can change his form at will but generally goes about as a British-accented Australian shepherd
  • 1 reincarnated black-and-white tuxedo cat, Tango, currently on her seventh life and making a movie with an all-animal-spirit cast
  • 1 chef who is part Thunderbird (an ancient weather spirit) and also the main character’s boyfriend
  • 1 private zoo that contains (and I use the word loosely), an extra-aggressive honey badger
  • 1 animal graveyard where animal spirits come and go constantly on something called the Great Crossroads
  • 1 menagerie of animal ghosts (menagerie may include an octopus, a panther who says “Hey” a lot, a few former film stars, and assorted goats)
  • 1 semi-resident rock star who sometimes, in a chemically enhanced state, does strange things that he does not remember
  • 1 eccentric and very rich boss, ZZ, who has agreed to allow a zombie movie to be filmed on her property
  • 1 film crew shooting an independent “film” (film crew may contain the following: an unlucky director, a sleazeball producer, an abrasive, untalented “star,” a male lead who usually does Much Bigger Things, assorted zombies)
  • 1 dead body, head and hands removed
  • 1 superorganized assistant who is a wee bit controlling but seems to know how to handle anything, including all the above ingredients and probably a lot more. Her name is Foxtrot.

Mix all ingredients well, then add in a lot of laughter, some touching bits, and a terrific mystery that you will never figure out on your own.

The plot

We’ll bet you’ve never baked anything like that before. But interesting ingredients are nothing without a plot, and Lyle delivers on this point as well. What happens is, Foxtrot comes to work on a Tuesday and finds a bunch of zombies all over the front yard—but that’s normal. The strange thing is that there’s some sort of oddly constructed maze on the lawn. Wasn’t there yesterday. Not supposed to be there today. Hmm…

Then Foxtrot finds a bloodstain on the path, which leads inevitably to the dead body that is missing its head and hands (see ingredient list), which appear to have been chewed off, possibly be a honey badger (also on ingredient list). And all that comes before the explosion (not on the list, but we wanted to surprise you with something).

All of that leaves quite a mystery, what with one unidentified body, one person missing and presumed dead and another hospitalized, the victim of an attempted murder via bombing. And of course there’s no shortage of suspects. Plus there’s all that stuff going on with Tango’s movie (you try keeping hundreds of ghostly animal actors in check; it’s not as easy as it sounds).

The real point 

I am purposely not revealing a lot of the plot because, while Lyle’s plots are some of the best, for us the real point of this series is the hilarity. Need to relax after a rough day? Crack open A Deadly Tail and you’ll feel better. She of Little Talent guffawed (I am not making this up) so frequently I had to bury my head under a pillow.

The imagery is also outstanding…and “out there.” Lyle has re-envisioned the Rainbow Bridge as something more like a Rainbow Expressway, with colorful animal spirits on the move. And then there’s the visual of the zombie-covered lawn and that weird maze-like thingy. If ever there was a cozy mystery series we wanted to see as a movie series, this would be it.

I must also mention that She of Little Talent’s inner editor admires the way dialogue is formatted differently for the, um, more unusual characters so you can always tell who is speaking. Quotation marks, square brackets, angle brackets, italics. It’s like seeing each character’s voice on the page. Genius!

Yes, there’s a lot going on in this book, and a lot of it is a little weird. But by the time you’ve read a few pages and gotten hooked on the plot, Foxtrot’s world will start to seem almost normal—but never, ever boring.

Very highly recommended!

A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good read; two paws is for a great read. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!

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