Goodness knows, I’ve read enough books featuring prominent cats over the years, so when Mallika of Literary Potpourri announced ‘#ReadingtheMeow23‘ I went straight to my shelves. Whatever I read would have to also fit with Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer.
However, I couldn’t initially find one there, and had to resort to some googling. I was sure I had a book about a woman on a road trip with a cat – but couldn’t remember the title or author – something like ‘XXX and I/Me’ with the XXX being a writer’s name or a name from mythology possibly beginning with a D – the cover was green. Maybe I imagined it! So, instead I googled ‘cat narrators’ and came up with the book below – I had had no idea there was a cat in it!
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
This psychological thriller was everywhere when it was published in 2021. Mercifully I managed to avoid any spoilers, as to know what was happening would really ruin it – and don’t worry I won’t spoil it for you either – which means this won’t be a long review!
It’s a story of child abduction narrated from three different points of view for most of the novel. The first is Ted Bannerman and here are the book’s opening lines…
Today is the anniversary of Little Girl With Popsicle. It happened by the lake, eleven years ago – she was there, and then she wasn’t. So it’s already a bad day when I discover that there is a Murderer among us.
Olivia lands heavily on my stomach first thing, making high-pitched sounds like clockwork. If there’s anything better than a cat on the bed, I don’t know about it. I fuss over her because when Lauren arrives later she will vanish. My daughter and my cat won’t be in the same room.
‘I’m up!’ I say. ‘It’s your turn to make breakfast.’ She looks at me with those yellow-green eyes then pads away. She finds a disc of sun, flings herself down and blinks in my direction. Cats don’t get jokes.
Ted is mostly a recluse. He lives on – yes – the last house on Needless Street. When the six-year-old girl disappeared, he was taken in by the police, but they had nothing on him. From the start, we feel that there is something wrong there, definitely off-kilter. The ‘Murderer’ he refers to is someone who has killed the birds in his yard – spoiling one of his few pleasures in watching them.
We switch narrator to Olivia, the cat – who is mainly in italics. Olivia tells us about her relationship with Ted, how he’s ‘kind of a sandy colour’ with patches of red fur on his face and head. She tells us how Ted found her and how she is bound to Ted by a ‘soft, white, glowing cord’ and that he is in her care, ‘as decreed by the LORD.’ Olivia is anything but a normal cat narrator!
The third narrator is Dee, the big sister of Lulu, the girl who disappeared. Dee is convinced Ted did it and that Lulu is still alive. She manages to she move into the house next door from where she will watch him, even though the world-weary detective still on the case tells her to stay away, that Ted has a cast iron alibi.
The last person to mention is Lauren, who doesn’t speak until later, but she is often there at Ted’s house. Ted or Olivia will tell us about her, but they never explain who brings her, or where she goes when she leaves. When she arrives though Olivia does this.
I go to my crate when Lauren visits. There is room for my thoughts in there. It’s always dark and good. I am sure the LORD would not approve of what I’m going to say, but – small teds are awful.
I liked the way that the cat calls humans ‘teds’ – to her that’s their name. Just one of the many idiosyncrasies of this peculiar animal narrator, who can also read – she enjoys pushing the family bible off the table to see what verse it’ll fall open at, as if it was a card reading!
I really can’t say much more. Once started, if you gel with this book, you won’t want to put it down. Looking back after I finished it, I could see some obvious clues – but many more less so. It’s creepy, it’s twisty, it tears your sympathies one way or the other repeatedly, and all the while, you’re hoping that Olivia will survive, not forgetting what happened to Lulu. There is a slight horror feel to it too, not for nothing is there a puff by Stephen King on the front cover. This book was Ward’s breakthrough novel and, had I read it back then, I would have had to admit it was worth the hype, and I want to read more by her.
Source: Own copy from the TBR. Viper books hardback 2021, 335 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s in paperback via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)