The Ninth Life (Blackie and Care)
by Clea Simon
Review by Gayle Surrette
Severn House Publishers Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780727885715
Date: 01 March 2016 List Price $28.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The book opens with the narrator drowning and finally being rescued by a young girl with pink hair. The near downed victim is a cat, which the girl names, Blackie. The girl is Care. Readers learn about these characters and the events surrounding them from Blackie and Care.
Blackie seems, from the thoughts he shares with the reader, to be a bit of a curmudgeon whose looking out for number one--after all he's a cat--and yet he feels drawn to stay with and help Care. Care, on the other hand, is homeless and trying to do everything in her power to keep from being taken by child protective services.
We quickly learn that Care and a lot of other homeless children and young adults have come under the not so benevolent care of a Fagin-ish character who sees they are fed and have a place to stay that's relatively safe. Care knows that there's an expectation that you do jobs for him in exchange this safety. Care has found herself some independence by working with a local private detective. This PI's last case may have cost him his life and Care is determined to find out what happened, why, and who is to blame.
The book follows Care as she tries to unravel the events that she knows about, and the few clues she can gather from the detective's office which was trashed before she got there. She's also trying to keep a young boy, Tick, safe from being abused and used by the local drug dealers. She's determined to keep the cat she saved safe and readers know that Blackie is determined to stay with Care.
While we are often allowed to know what Blackie is thinking, we don't know why he is so determined to stay with Care and help her or what the connection is between the two of them. Something is going on and Blackie seems to be more that what appears on the surface. However, this is not a talking cat story. Blackie may be special, or at least not your average cat, but he can't communicate with Care or tell her what to do. He can only use basic cat behavior to signal to her what he wants and hope she understands.
The mystery is convoluted and with enough twists and turn to keep readers interested. The atmosphere of menace and danger is very real as Care and Blackie try to stay alive long enough to solve the mystery. Betrayals and surprising sources of support add to the danger and keep the pages turning.
A very different investigative team that has potential to turn into a series. I'll look forward to learning more and hope for another book with these characters.