I am so excited to have author, Clea Simon as a guest blogger here today at Booth Talks Books. I was thrilled to be able to chat along with Clea after I received the book to read and as I journeyed through the dark world of Blackie and Care. Before I tell you what I thought about “The Ninth Life”, Clea has some fun information that led up to the formation of Blackie.
Don’t tell Blackie. He’s the narrator of my new “The Ninth Life” mystery, the first in a new series for me. But for a few hours there, it was all about the squirrel.
I should explain. I have a complicated history with squirrels. Unlike my (real-life) kitty Musetta, I generally think they’re cute. While she sits by the window, muttering and lashing her tail and generally having homicidal (squirrel-cidal?) fantasies, I like seeing their fat white bellies when they sit up to eat and their bright eyes as they run up and down the trees in my yard. But when I find my bulbs dug up in the fall – and the heads bitten off my tulips in spring? Then they’re not so cute. And the one summer I tried to grow eggplant and each time one grew to be almost ready … and then I’d find it on the patio table with one bite taken out of it? I was almost ready to side with Musetta then!
But that all changed when I went for my new author photo. Now, you have to understand, author photos are challenging – probably for all of us. We’re writers, not movie stars, and we spend most of our days living more in our heads than on treadmills or in malls. So when it comes time to be photographed, well, let’s just say that the reality doesn’t often match up with the fantasy. And while maybe some authors can pay for the full-bore glamour treatment, the rest of us are just hoping that makeup (a lot) and lighting (a little) will produce something that will make us recognizable at conferences but won’t scare small children.
“Make me look friendly,” I told my photographer friend Naomi. “If you can also make me not too baggy and saggy, that would be great.”
“You are friendly,” she replied. “And don’t worry about the rest.” That wasn’t quite the encouragement I had hoped for.
But the real problem came when she started shooting. “Look over here,” she’d tell me – pointing to some distant spot. “Then move your eyes back to the camera.”
Well, I’m not the most coordinated person in the first place (I’m a writer, right? Not a pro athlete). Also, to make a portrait that would be timeless – or at least be good for a few years – Naomi had insisted that I take my glasses off. The glasses that I put on my nightstand last thing at night and grab for first thing in the morning. The latest version of what I’ve been wearing since third grade….
You can see where this is heading. Between my inability to see and my inability to follow directions, I was looking at the camera and moving my eyes away, or staring off at some vague movement – one of Naomi’s two cats? – when I should have been focusing in.
And then Naomi had a brainstorm. “Be right back,” she said, leaving me in her studio blinded by the million degree lights and the lack of my glasses. “Here,” she said, a minute later, and held out to me a fluffy plush squirrel – fake, of course – but with the same bright eyes as the little fellows in my yard. “You can see him, right?”
“Yes,” I confirmed. I could. And from then on, it was “Squirrel!!” “Look at the squirrel!” “Oh my, it’s a squirrel!”
The Ninth Life by Clea Simon
It worked. Which makes sense, when you think about it. As any readers of my books probably know by now, I relate more to animals than I do to most people. After all, there’s a reason why a cat narrates my latest mystery. Once Naomi brought the squirrel into it, not only was I laughing, but I moved as she wanted me to, looking where and when I was supposed to. And if the photos aren’t beautiful, they are honestly relaxed and happy. Musetta, I think, would be proud.
Review of “The Ninth Life” by Booth Talks Books
We know nothing of Blackie when we meet him and when we meet Care, the ragged, pink-haired street rat that soon becomes his favored companion. His memory picks up from where she picks him up and their adventure seems to begin there. Blackie feels an unusual connection with this Care girl and chalks it up to the fact that she saved him from what he can only remember as three foggy shadows of what he assumes are men from their shapes.
Through Blackie, his eyes, his observations, his smells and cat-senses we get a look at the world in a different way. We go on a journey with his newfound companions to find out who murdered her former friend and father-like figure whom she refers to as “The Old Man.” Through this journey we are introduced to a boy, Tick, who used to share a foster home with her and who also is now on the street. He, a younger brother-like figure to Care. Only, this boy is tied up in the world of drug smuggling, and other illegal trades, unable to shake their hold. Having escaped this life, Care had been taken under the wing of The Old Man and learned how to become a detective of sorts, taking down men such as those who Tick was now working for. Only a young boy, Care hopes to save him from this life of crime and need for drugs that are now becoming a life-style. Being a cat, Blackie has a heightened sense of smell, location and knowledge of people. He doesn’t know how, but he just seems to know what to do, how to go about it and that this girl, this Care has been well-trained and that he must stick with her and help her as best he can. Again, you become aware of how human-like Blackie is in his way of dealing with issues. Even though the people around him can’t hear his thoughts, we as readers are treated to his genius schemes and insights all through the book. If all cats think like this, I will never look at another cat the same again.
As “The Ninth Life” progresses, Care and Tick come in and out of each others lives and danger envelopes them both many times. Blackie is able to help them with various warnings and even searching out places beforehand. By the end, we are invested in the characters. I, for one, wanted Care to triumph in her journey and accomplish what she had been trying to do through the entire book. I also wanted Blackie to figure out the dream that continued to haunt him; the dream of the three shadow men. Care is a brilliant sleuth with Blackie. A most shocking reveal is made at the end that changes all you think about Blackie and the future of Care. The second book cannot come soon enough.
Clea Simon has twisted my brain with this book. I have been taken to the dark, damp underbelly of a drug infested, money greedy, mob-like world. My tour-guide, a cat. Normally, this would sound silly to me, but Blackie is amazing. Anyone else telling the story would be all wrong. We would know nothing like we know had she written in a different narrator. My mind is blown by this angle and I love it. Brilliant Clea, just brilliant.
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I was sent this book in exchange for a fair review