By Rick Reed
The newest Midnight Louie mystery novel from Carole Nelson Douglas, Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta, revolves around amateur sleuth Temple Barr when she gets her first official private investigator assignment: investigate the death of a rich, dying “cat lady’s” yardman. While murderously greedy heirs and killers circle the human crime-solvers, Temple Barr’s secret weapon—hard-boiled feline PI, Midnight Louie—is working overtime to tip off and protect his humans.
While Temple investigates the death of the yardman, a serial killer known as the Barbie Doll killer threatens homicide lieutenant Carmen Molina’s teenage daughter. When both cases collide, many burning questions find surprising answers . . . and Temple lands dead center in a fiery finale that will unmask the crazed killers. Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta will be released by Forge Books in August, 2011.
Carole Nelson Douglas is the USA TODAY-bestselling author of fifty-eight novels ranging from contemporary and historical mystery to noir urban fantasy. She is also the author of the Irene Adler series about the first woman to ever outsmart Sherlock Holmes.
When I received the assignment to write this article, I did the preliminary research and discovered that Carole and I are at opposite ends of the crime-writing spectrum. I wondered how she would go about employing a cat as an assistant to a detective. I was both impressed and delighted to find the answers by reading Carole’s last release, Cat in an Ultramarine Scheme: A Midnight Louie Mystery. The clever twists and turns in her plot kept me reading well into the “Midnight” hours, and I was happy to miss the sleep.
“Midnight Louie is the funniest, hairiest hard-boiled PI on the planet!” –Janet Evanovich
“The latest Midnight Louie tale is just as twisty, riveting and intriguing as the ones that came before. Even longtime fans of the series are bound to say ‘Wow, I never saw that coming!’ to the very end.”—RT Book Reviews on Cat in an Ultramarine Scheme
“If either Mike Hammer or Columbo had a cat, it would be Midnight Louie.” —Cat Fancy
Tell me about your dual protagonists, Temple Barr and Midnight Louie?
They are a classic human-animal detecting team, although Midnight Louie is feline rather than K-9.
Temple Barr was created as an antidote to the tall, tough, brass-knuckled female PIs who became popular and then a cliché, like many latter-day noir guys. She’s “Nancy Drew on killer spikes,” a feminine five-foot-zero, forever fighting a perception of being “small and young” and not taken seriously in her public relations career and personal life. She’s a perfect balance to Midnight Louie’s vintage macho PI persona. She’s also a terrier–definitely cute, but rabid at rooting out vermin. In Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta, she not only unmasks a family psychopath, she faces down a serial killer and saves his victim. My point with Temple is that “strong” women come in all sizes and types.
Midnight Louie, PI, however, is “Sam Spade with hairballs,” the loner street-wise tough-guy . . . at least he likes to think so. All stray cats walk the “mean streets” like the classic noir PIs. Louie also regards himself as quite a “ladies man” and has tangled with a couple of deadly feline fatales (one boasts of curare on her claws) while assisting his human partner. Louie narrates intermittent chapters so his reports on his own investigations and his opinion of human nature are both amusing and perceptive.
What book number is the current Midnight Louie book, Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta? What does the future hold for this great cat-tective?
This is the twenty-third book. Louie has left Las Vegas (the only city big enough to hold him) only once, in Cat in a Golden Garland, for the Big Apple at Christmas time. In next year’s Cat in a White Tie and Tails, he makes a jaunt to Chicago and nabs some nasty mob errand boys who try to nab him. Then he heads back to Vegas to help foil a casino heist. Just a week’s work for Midnight Louie.
What did you do before you became a writer? Did this career help you develop the ideas and characters in your several private investigator series?
I majored in what I loved in college, Theatre and English Lit, knowing teaching was the only realistic way to use either major. “Lucky” to get hired as the local metropolitan daily newspaper as a vastly overqualified advertising department flunky with no future as a female except moving “up” to taking classified ads, my volunteering to write satirical skits for the paper’s annual Gridiron show led me to becoming a reporter within a year. (Guess those theater and writing degrees weren’t useless, after all.) Those reporting years were like getting a PhD in human psychology and major political and social issues. I draw on my acting experience for character psychology and dialogue, and, since reporters are basically investigators, give that background to my female protagonists. Reporters are terriers too.
Temple Barr is a former TV reporter who worked in public relations for a repertory theater before moving to Las Vegas. That makes her inquisitive, courageous and, as a PR person, she has a stake in solving problems when things go wrong . . . like murder. Delilah Street was a paranormal beat TV reporter in 2013 Wichita, Kansas, who becomes a PI, Paranormal Investigator in a Las Vegas literally from hell. And Irene Adler, as she appears in my series, is a diva/detective who worked as an agent for the Pinkertons before her performing career took hold and she tangled with Sherlock Holmes.
Typically mystery reviewers (and readers) expect every book to tie up all the loose ends at the end of the particular book they are reading. In this interview you stated that you have several ongoing unsolved killings that are part of a twenty-seven book series. Can you explain this? And why these characters?
I wanted the series continuity and issues to mirror real life. Police work ends up with lots of cold cases. I’ll solve the “main” murder in each book, but the series includes unsolved murders and crimes that form an overarching conspiracy, which is where the international terrorism comes in.
The use of main characters who are amateur and professional and who have both professional and personal lives makes each novel more convincing. Temple’s “opposite” is the “Iron Maiden” of the Vegas police department., homicide lieutenant C. R. Molina, an all-business tall and imposing woman. Yet she’s also a single mother with those concerns. Temple’s ex is a major Strip magician, the Mystifying Max, whose boyhood involvement in an IRA bombing in Belfast has made him an undercover counterterrorist now trying to retire. Her current fiancée is an ex-priest who came to Vegas hunting down an abusive stepfather. He’s become a radio counselor who can end up talking with local psychos, and maybe even Elvis.
These four characters veer from being antagonists to allies, all the while solving cases and the issues in their lives. Midnight Louie, of course, has his own problems. He finds his lost mama, Ma Barker, who leads a feral cat pack, and his unacknowledged daughter, Midnight Louise, finds “the dirty rat who left her mother with a six-pack of kittens after a one-night stand.” As the new-model tough female PI, Midnight Louise cuts Louie no slack.
What frustrations present themselves in writing a “substantive” cat mystery series?
Mysteries with cats are considered “cozies” because the cats are the indoor domestic variety and the mystery milieu is more afternoon tearoom than back-alley bar. Because of Louie’s noir roots, the Las Vegas setting, and the character and social issues, my series has more of hard crime background. Temple, for instance, is beaten up by two toughs in book three, and no less than the New York Times crime/mystery reviewer is on record as saying that doesn’t happen in “cozies.” So I came up with tongue-in-cheek description for the series as “cozy-noir.” I also get a kick out of one of my male readers describing it as “the epic Midnight Louie cat mystery series” on an online book site. Right on, brother!
Will we be seeing Temple or Midnight Louie on television? Are there any current television series that would compare with the story line in Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta?
The series was optioned for a TV pilot. What fun it would have been to “see” Louie’s noir point of view and hearing his unique Damon Runyon-gumshoe “voice” relayed with today’s technology. Would his camera POV be in black-and-white, neon colors etc.? Instead, they make same-old, ho-hum series like Vegas with semi-naked ladies.
Interesting footnote. A couple seasons back, Hugh Jackman produced the shortest TV series ever, Laughlin, Nevada, set in a gaming center south of Vegas. Hugh had a cameo role as a hotel-casino owner named Nick Fontana. A casino-founding character of that name has been a major character in my series since 1990. What are the odds? I heard from a zillion readers excited that it was a version of my series. Alas, no. Jackman would have been great playing my magician-counterterrorism agent, Max Kinsella. Ah, well. That’s show biz.
Regarding your Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator series, can you talk a little about your use of humor in this mystery and horror series?
I’m basically a social satirist, so there’s always wit and humor in my writing, through the characters and their voices. One Mystery Scene review nails the satirical flavor of the Midnight Louie series. “Cat in a Quicksilver Caper is another insuperable genre-bending Carole Nelson Douglas spoof that, with a twist of the postmodern, cleverly incorporates elements of multiple genres while parodying them.”
In the crime writing and thriller field, the humor is often “black,” because when writers and readers deal with darkness, relief is needed. Black humor abounds at medical examiner’s facilities. In Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta, Temple visits Las Vegas coroner Graham “Grizzly” Bahr about a pair of feet in cowboy boots and cement “overshoes” revealed in Lake Mead’s drought-dried lake bed. Their dialogue crackles with dark puns.
Delilah Street’s 2013 Vegas throngs with supernatural bad guys from werewolf mobsters to demon drug lords. I’ve blended the urban fantasy landscape with classic noir characters like Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles by creating “celebrity zombies,” their living, literally black-and-white film personas used as tourist attractions. The ex-FBI guy who’s Delilah’s partner can dowse for the dead, so horror definitely creeps into the series. In fact, it’s “hideously funny,” yet time for a big and gruesome action scene, when a restored drive-in movie theater running the classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, is overrun by zombies coming off the screen to snack on the audience. Horror and humor were born be narrative partners, just like cats and mystery.
What is a typical day like for you?
Oh-so-boring. Everything interesting happens in my mind, not on the home office front. Readers seem to understand, amazingly, that authors are always meeting deadlines. Having written two novels a year for a long time, I’m continually getting deadlines on revision suggestions and copy-edited manuscripts and galleys to read. Then there are the social media authors are expected to keep up with these days. So I’m a technological “cave dweller.” I consider freelance writing a cottage industry that has employed my multi-tasking husband and me for most of our lives.
I escape to Zumba classes three days a week and travel annually to three or more national writing conventions, where I enjoy the flurry of socializing and panel discussions. So I flip from monastic quiet among the cats to absolute chaos. I think most writers are bi-polar that way. Being a writer is mostly all work and no play, but since writing and exercising my creativity is the best play of all, it’s the perfect combination.
What’s next for Carole Nelson Douglas?
I have the “W, X, Y and Z” Midnight Louie mysteries to write, of course, and some short fiction, more Delilah, and who knows what else in future? Readers have been urging for years that Louie’s mystery career doesn’t end with his “Z” book (got that question again today!), so I’ll have to dream up another series life for him. Nine lives are not enough for Midnight Louie, or me.
For more information about Carole Nelson Douglas, please visit her website.