Many Books, One Cat
By Dawn Ius
TROUBLE MOST FAIRE is the 11th novel in the Cat Detective Familiar Legacy mystery series—but it’s the first one that author Jaden Terrell has written. The series shares an unusual—yet effective—structure in that while each book stands alone and is written by a single author, it’s a multi-author series.
“In each book, Trouble, the black cat detective, helps solve a mystery and bring a couple together,” says Terrell. “While the setting, crime, and couple are different in each book, we all share the same cat.”
Trouble is the brainchild of Carolyn Haines, a USA Today bestselling author who writes the Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta series and the darker Pluto Snitch mysteries. Terrell says Booth originally wrote a series of black cat detective mysteries for Harlequin, featuring a cat named Familiar, and they were wildly popular with readers.
“She would have liked to have continued the series, but Harlequin still owns the rights to them,” Terrell says. “So she decided to write about his son, Trouble, instead. Where Familiar is a Sam Spade type, Trouble grew up watching Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock. As a result, he’s acquired a British accent and considers himself a more cerebral and sophisticated sleuth than his dad.”
Booth thought it would be fun to invite other authors to write about Trouble too—and under the umbrella name of the Mad Catters, a writing cooperative of sorts was formed. The built-in support—for the work and the promotion of the work—is great, but Terrell admits there are still challenges to writing a series this way, in particular, with keeping Trouble’s voice and character consistent.
“He has a lot of endearing quirks—like his love of all things British and his taste for gourmet seafood,” Terrell says. “He’s fiercely independent and a little bit arrogant (he is a cat, after all), but he has a huge heart, and he takes his responsibilities to his human charges very seriously.
“Writing this book took me way outside my comfort zone, because my other series is a gritty private detective series, where, if my detective goes out with a woman three times, I start to wonder if I need to kill her off or send her to a foreign country.”
The Trouble books are lighthearted and fun, with a dollop of sweet romance on the side. While Terrell struggled a little with that aspect of the story—not that anyone can tell by her exquisite writing—Terrell ramped up the setting. Though she stayed true to the small-town vibe that is consistent in each of the books, TROUBLE MOST FAIRE is set against the backdrop of a Renaissance Faire, an event that catered to Terrell’s interests.
“I’m a role-playing geek (my husband and I met at a Dungeons and Dragons game), and was in the SCA (the Society for Creative Anachronism) when I was younger, so it was a perfect fit,” she says. “As soon as I thought of the faire as a setting, ideas for characters and situations started pouring in. Tuck, the pig, came first, based on an adventure my brother and I once had at a Ren Faire petting zoo.
“There was one little pig who had apparently spent most of the weekend escaping. The last time she ran off into the woods, the exasperated owner turned to her husband and said, ‘That’s it! When we get home, that pig is bacon!’
At my brother’s protest, she said, ‘Tell you what. If you can catch it, you can keep it.’
“David dived into the woods and came out ten minutes later with the pig in his arms. He brought it over to me, plopped it into my arms, and said, ‘Happy birthday, Bethie!’
She ended up not getting along with our big dogs, so we found her a wonderful home, where her new mom gave her a pool to play in and a ladder so she could sleep with her mom on the bed. But when I thought of the Ren Faire as a setting for this book, that memory flooded back, and the character of a potbellied pig who is also an escape artist was born.”
Tuck isn’t the first animal to work alongside Trouble, but Terrell admits to having a lot of fun developing the duo’s relationship—a push and pull of getting each other in and out of, well, trouble. And yet, despite a strong cameo role from Tuck—and other animals throughout the novel—Trouble remains the primary star.
“I think the reason cats are such popular sleuths is that they’re so enigmatic,” Terrell says. “You know they’re thinking about things, but you’re never quite sure what. I once heard John Connolly discuss this issue on a panel, and in that charming Irish accent, he said, ‘If you’re going to make an animal investigate a murder, why not choose one that might actually care—like, say, a golden retriever? Why pick one that, if you die, will eat the soft bits?’
“I think that very pragmatism is part of what makes cats especially well suited to the role of amateur sleuth. They’re loving and loyal and have been known to run into burning buildings after the human children they’ve bonded to. But they’re also curious, independent, and tenacious—as you know if you’ve ever tried to teach one to stay off the table. One could argue that they’re more likely to be objective than a dog might be.”
Of course, the human couple in every Trouble mystery is also important, and in TROUBLE MOST FAIRE, Terrell introduces Robbi Bryan and Mal McLaren. While both characters come with a lot of emotional baggage, Terrell says their relationship was interesting to write.
“I fell in love with Robbi when she told me how, as the smallest kid in fourth grade, she’d always hated Red Rover, Red Rover,” she says. “And I fell in love with Mal when I saw him burst out of the woods in his kilt with his dog at his heels, ready to do whatever it took to protect his pig.”
Though these characters won’t be making a repeat appearance, Terrell has plenty to keep her busy.
“I have a standalone literary thriller I hope to get to my agent by the end of the year, and I have the first book of a fantasy trilogy ready to submit,” she says. “I’m also researching my next PI novel and planning my next Trouble book—The Trouble with Bigfoot. That should be a lot of fun.”