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Classified as Murder by Miranda James
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Classified as Murder (2011)

by Miranda James

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There is a good reason that the cover of the Cat in the Stacks mystery series' second book, Classified as Murder, has a bust of Poe on the cover. A rare edition of one of Edgar Allen Poe's works features in the collection of James Delacorte of Athena, Mississippi. Mr. Delacorte hires our librarian hero, Charlie Harris, to inventory that collection. He suspects that someone in his household is stealing his books.

Our suspects are Daphne Delacorte Morris, James' widowed sister; Daphne's son Hubert, Hubert's wife, Eloise (is she merely eccentric or is she insane?); James' great-niece, nurse Cynthia Delacorte; and James' great-nephew, chemistry professor Stewart Delacorte. (Cynthia and Stewart are the grandchildren of James' late brothers.) The Delacorte mansion is in the capable hands of the butler, Truesdale.

On the home front, Sean Harris, Charlie's lawyer son, is here from Houston. He's brought a cute little white poodle named Dante with him. How is Diesel going to react to having a dog in HIS house? (Legally, the house belongs to Charlie, but as we who live with cats know, cats believe that EVERYTHING is theirs.)

Because I'd already read books seven and six before one and two, I knew which of the characters introduced in this book were going to become regular members of the cast. That made for extra fun.

NOTES (pop culture references, fictional and real name-dropping, character facts, and non-spoiler tips to help those who've read the book find things again):

Chapter 1:

a. Charlie recalls the library Athena had when he was a boy and contrasts it with the current public library, which he describes as 'municipal bland,' although he admits to a few advantages it has. (One of those is a change I certainly believe in.)

b. The library has a full-time staff of six. Charlie shares the office of cataloger Lenore Battle when he volunteers.

c. Reference librarian Teresa Farmer, a regular supporting character, is on vacation in this one. (I note that the acknowledgments section of this book thanks a Terry Farmer, PhD, for being the author's technical advisor on all things about Maine Coon cats, though any errors are his[Dean James'] own. Dr. Farmer's Maine Coons are Figo, Anya, and Katie.)

d. We're told that Diesel is almost three and almost 33 pounds/14.968 548 21 kilograms. Charlie e-mailed a Houston Maine Coon breeder, Becky Carrazone, about Diesel's weight. She replied.

e. I laughed at Diesel's opinion of first and second graders who want to ride him.

f. One of the librarians, Lizzie Hayes, is described.

g. Diesel's size is compared to that of a half-grown Labrador retriever dog.

h. The proverbial dime that Charlie talks about used to be the proverbial nickel when I was a girl in the 1960s.

i. The library has ongoing budget woes.

j. Diesel is a gray tabby with dark markings and has a thick ruff of fur around his neck, so the big brown tabby without a neck ruff that appears on the covers of books one through seven is incorrect. (My late rescue cat, Miss Silver, looked like a small Maine Coon, so the ruff-less cat on the cover has never looked right to me.)

k. I chuckled at what elderly patron Mrs. Abernathy considered an advantage of being widowed. (Yes, 'widow-woman' is redundant because the male version is 'widower,' but it's an old expression.)

l. James Delacorte is described and examples of his reading tastes are given. (If this were real life instead of fiction, Charlie wouldn't be telling us anything more than that Mr. Delacorte has a wide range of interests. Patrons' privacy must be protected. Don't let anyone call you the client of a library. 'Patron' is a classier word and we library users are entitled to it.)

m. 'Tolerable' is a Southern expression that's like someone you're okay when you're asked how you're doing/are.

n. Latin America, the European revolutions of 1848, the Fall of Constantinople [now Istanbul], poets Wordsworth and Coleridge, and author Louisa May Alcott are mentioned.

o. We meet Anita Milhaus, a reference librarian so rude and lazy that head librarian Mrs. Ann Manscoe would fire her if Anita's family didn't donate so much money to Athena's civic causes.

p. A comparison is made to the Rockefeller wealth.

q. Charlie deadpans [does not allow his face to show any expression] a remark that makes Lizzie guffaw.

r. Charlie's volunteer shift this Friday afternoon ended at 2 p.m.

s. Charlie's son, Sean, has been to Athena only once since Charlie moved back. That was last Christmas.

Chapter 2:

a. Sean, like his late mother, sticks to his prearranged schedule.

b. Laura, who is two years younger than Sean, is flexible and easy-going like Charlie. She's an actress in Hollywood.

c. Diesel opens the door from the garage to the kitchen. Charlie has his suspect for who recently taught his cat that trick.

d. Boarder Justin is camping with his father and some other relatives. (See book one, Murder Past Due, for information about young Justin Wardlaw's family. The coming week is spring break at Athena College. Justin started boarding at Charlie's just last autumn.

e. Dante the poodle is introduced. He's champagne colored and tiny. Enjoy his first encounter with Diesel.

f. Sean is 6-feet, three inches/190.5 centimeters tall. He's handsome and has black hair. It's been cut too short to show its curl.

g. Athena, Mississippi is a 12-hour drive from Houston, Texas.

h. The sofa on Charlie's back porch is made of wicker.

i. Charlie estimates that Diesel outweighs Dante by 20 pounds/9.07 kilograms.

j. Dante is 15 months old.

k. Charlie tells us a few things about 27-year-old Sean's job back in Houston.

l. For a moment, Charlie sees Sean as the little boy whom he helped with math homework. Read why.

m. Charlie is a stress eater.

n. Lemon icebox pie is lemon meringue pie without the meringue.

o. Sweet tea is tea that has already been sweetened.

p. Charlie doesn't have any beer in the house.

q. Charlie jokes about 'done-lap' disease.

Chapter 3:

a. Sean won't look at his father whenever he doesn't want to tell him the truth about something.

b. A human being cannot give more than 100% effort, Sean, so please don't claim you gave 110%.

c. Jackie Harris died the summer after Sean's first year of law school in Austin, Texas.

d. Charlie suddenly realizes how some of his past actions must look to Sean.

e. Charlie's backyard has azalea bushes. Confederate jasmine grows along the fence.

f. Charlie remembers something else from Sean's boyhood.

g. There's an elevator in the antebellum mansion that serves as the college library's administration building.

h. James Delacorte makes a compliment about librarians.

Chapter 4:

a. James Delacorte has been collecting rare books for over 50 years. He has 7,000 of them. There is no index, but there is a handwritten inventory.

b. Charlie is offered an hourly rate that some lawyers would charge.

c. Mr. Delacorte's own cat died, at the age of 19, several months ago.

d. The Delacortes have tea at 4 p.m. because Mr. Delacorte lived in England some decades ago.

e. Tsk. Dante has done something naughty.

f. Charlie and Sean trade a joke about Southern eccentrics.

g. Helen Louise Brady's bakery is about a 15-minute walk from Charlie's house.

h. Loved how Helen Louise handled Mary Anna Milligan's objection to Diesel and Dante's presence.

i. Charlie tells us that he and Helen Louise have known each other since high school. He's beginning to suspect something about her.

Chapter 5:

a. Charlie's housekeeper, Azalea Berry, worked for the Delacourtes for about three months. That was before she worked for Charlie's aunt (no pun intended). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033457/

b. Helen Louise and Daphne Delacorte Morris attend the same church.

c. Helen Louise spends a lot of what time not spent on her business doing charitable work.

d. There's a Carolyn Haines reference. Both Charlie and Helen Louise are big fans of her mysteries.

e. James was the oldest of the four Delacorte siblings and Daphne was the youngest.

f. Helen Louise explains the Delacorte family finances.

g. Sean makes an Agatha Christie reference. Helen Louise mentions the butler, Truesdale, who has worked for James Delacorte for 40 or more years. There have been rumors about James and his butler.

h. Helen Louise had been a lawyer for a big Memphis firm for a few years.

i. Helen Louise and Jackie Harris were friends, too. Charlie repeats that he's known her since high school when he and Sean discuss the baker.

j. Charlie had a wireless network installed in his house after the holidays.

k. Charlie tells us about the Delacorte mansion, the part of Athena it's in, and how his high school history teacher, Mrs. Pittman, loved to bring her classes for a tour of the Honeycutt mansion on the corner. (Mrs. Pittman was a descendant of the Honeycutts.)

l. Truesdale is tall and gaunt.

m. There's a Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind reference.

Chapter 6:

a. We meet Eloise Morris, who is a blonde. What a stunning outfit!

b. I chuckled at the way Truesdale introduced Diesel.

c. There's some description of the Delacorte mansion's hallway.

d. James Delacorte's library is described.

e. Charlie remembers a couple patrons from his days as a Houston Public Library branch manager.

f. James Delacorte's description of his nephew, Hubert Morris, made me snicker.

h. Charlie and Mr. Delacorte prefer printed books to electronic ones. (Same here.)

i. Charlie meets the rest of the family in a room he thinks should be called a parlor or drawing room. The room and the relatives are described.

j. There's a comparison made to Marlo Thomas' hair style when she was on 'That Girl' 1966-1971 TV show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zoh1LGADKI8

k. Cynthia appears to be at least three inches/7.62 centimeters taller than Stewart.

j. Stewart is an associate professor at the Athena College chemistry department.

k. Steward is the grandson of James' brother Arthur. James' other brother, Thomas, was Cynthia's grandfather.

l. Eloise prefers Lapsang souchong to Darjeeling tea.

m. James Delacorte reacts to his relatives' behavior.

Chapter 7:

a. Charlie abhors confrontations such as the one happening at the beginning of this chapter.

b. The Mississippi State Hospital, a psychiatric facility, is located at Whitfield. (It's a real place.)

c. Cynthia gets Charlie to talk about the rare books at Athena College.

d. Mary Boykin Chestnut's diary is mentioned. It will be mentioned again in chapters 3 and 30 of book 6, Arsenic and Old Books.

e. Charlie has assisted two graduate students working on diaries for their dissertations.

Chapter 8:

a. Charlie attends worship service at the college's non-denominational chapel. He finds the sermon appropriate to his circumstances.

b. Charlie learns something about his son.

c. Charlie's paternal grandfather smoked cigars. He died at 84.

d. Gone With the Wind is mentioned.

e. Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust' sounds on Sean's cell phone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY0WxgSXdEE

Chapter 9:

a. Azalea Barry shows up and reacts to Dante. We get a bit of information about her, such as that she's in her late 50s and worked for Aunt Dottie for 20 years.

b. Charlie mentally compares Azalea to his fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Tenney.

c. Sean loves pancakes for breakfast better than anything.

d. Thanks to Azalea's cooking, Charlie exercises more than he did before he moved back to Athena.

e. Azalea worked for the Delacortes about 25 years ago. She mentions Miz Delacorte, James and Daphne's late mother. ('Miz' is Southern for 'Mrs.')

f. Azalea gives Charlie some information about James Delacorte, Truesdale, and Eloise Morris.

Chapter 10:

a. James Delacorte retired from business about 10 years ago, when he turned 75, according to Azalea.

b. Azalea explains why Daphne Morris is a widow.

c. There's a Miss Manners reference.

d. The Delacorte driveway is lined with Spanish moss-draped oak trees.

e. Charlie has read plenty of English mysteries.

f. James Delacorte explains about his inventory system.

Chapter 11:

a. Among the books in James Delacorte's collection are these titles: The Bay Psalm Book, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (one of Charlie's all-time favorite novels), Tabulae Anatomicae by Bartolomeo Eustachi, and Middlemarch by George Eliot (another favorite of Charlie's since he took Dr. Maria Butler's English Literature class at Athena College). Can't speak for books one and three, but the Austen is one of my favorites, and I enjoyed listening to the Eliot.

b. Stewart Delacorte was a jokester as a child and teen, according to his great-uncle.

Chapter 12:

a. Eloise is better than she was on Saturday.

b. The sight of Diesel provokes the usual reaction in a first-time viewer.

Chapter 13: Kanesha Berry is the only African-American female chief deputy in Mississippi. (Nice to know she got the job.) See chapter 13 of Murder Past Due for Azalea asking Charlie to help her daughter.

Chapter 14:

a. Kanesha meets Sean and Dante.

b. We learn about a time Azalea gave Sean a talking-to and why.

c. Daphne foolishly assumes that neither Charlie nor Sean will know what she means when she scolds her son in French.

d. Alexandra Pendergrast and her father, Q. C., will become recurring characters. Here we learn that Q. C. is Quentin Curtis Pendergrast III. At this point, it's just a phone call from Alexandra and Charlie has never met the great man or his daughter before.

Chapter 15:

a. Here Quentin Curtis Pendergrast III gets his first name spelled 'Quinton'. He is described, as is his daughter.

b. Q.C.'s Mississippi drawl reminds Charlie of his paternal grandfather.

c. Q. C. says something that embarrasses his daughter, who is his associate.

d. Q. C. has already heard about Diesel (who is not present at this meeting).

e. Sean steps into a verbal trap set for him by his father.

Chapter 16:

a. Sean wants pizza with a thick crust and lots of meat and cheese.

b. Kanesha is reasonably cordial to Dante.

c. Sean and Charlie have different ideas about allowing animals on the furniture.

d. Poe's Tamerlane is mentioned.

Chapter 17:

a. Agatha Christie's Miss Marple is mentioned.

b. The Hardy Boys get mentioned.

Chapter 18:

a. Sean grunts. Charlie tells us the last time he heard his son do that and what it signified back then.

b. Q. C. Pendergrast drives an older-model Cadillac.

c. Sean and Alexandra converse about Dante.

d. Believe Charlie when he talks about having been reared to address elders with respect. I've got Southern programming, too, thanks to my paternal grandparents. It's hard not to say 'sir' and 'ma'am'.

e. Apparently, the Biblical phrase can be translated as either 'weeping' or 'wailing' to go with that gnashing of teeth. http://biblehub.com/matthew/13-42.htm http://biblehub.com/luke/13-28.htm The Catholic New American Bible uses the more prosaic 'grinding of teeth,' which irritates me.

f. Charlie makes a comparison using the actual title of an Agatha Christie mystery.

Chapter 19:

a. The QE2 is the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2.

b. James Delacorte's middle name? Sullivan.

c. Stewart moved into Delacorte House 32 years ago.

Chapter 20:

a. Charlie thinks Eloise is singing 'Dixie'. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zji2Jd7pyg (At least there's no Confederate Flag in the old print.)

b. Now Eloise is humming 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic'. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4Xz7WV_qJs

c. Truesdale started working for James Delacorte 43 years ago, when he was 27.

Chapter 21:

a. Lorraine, the cook at Delacorte House, is a friend of Azalea.

b. James Delacorte's handwritten inventory of his book collection is in four bound volumes.

Chapter 22: Stewart Delacorte has a request.

Chapter 23:

a. Stewart reminds Sean of his friend, Arthur, in Houston.

b. Sean gives Stewart the terms for granting his request.

c. Charlie has read that Maine Coons can be very possessive. Charlie tells us how Diesel shows that.

d. Dante likes Stewart and vice-versa.

e. Delacorte's collection includes works by William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.

f. Eloise's voice is high pitched.

Chapter 24: Hubert Morris proves he's an even bigger jerk than he's shown readers so far.

Chapter 25:

a. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, a book that has haunted me since high school, is mentioned.

b. Charlie explains book signatures to Kanesha.

Chapter 26:

a. Diesel loves buttered bread. Charlie gives him several small chunks, even though it's garlic bread and he will be warning us that garlic and onions are bad for cats in future books.

b. James Delacorte didn't even blink when Stewart told him he was gay.

c. Stewart has won several teaching awards.

d. Stewart gives Sean and Charlie his assessment of his Great-Aunt Daphne and his second cousin Hubert.

e. Stewart mentions Dorothy Parker and Katherine Hepburn.

f. That nasty Anita Milhaus the reference librarian is sweet Eloise Morris' cousin. Poor Eloise.

Chapter 27:

a. Stewart sings 'All Things Bright and Beautiful'. He's a baritone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUnQMvwaXlc

b. A Curtain of Green by Eudora Welty and Soldiers' Pay by William Faulkner are mentioned.

Chapter 28:

a. Mosquitoes by William Faulkner is mentioned.

b. Kanesha knows some guy in the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI).

c. Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy is mentioned.

d. Charlie mentions Peter Vanderkeller, the Director of the Athena College Library (which, as readers of book one know, is the Hawksworth Library).

Chapter 29:

a. Someone named Lorelei calls. I liked the way Charlie handled her.

b. Sean's middle name is Robert. He and Charlie talk.

c. I liked Sean's revenge on someone who 'done him wrong'.

d. Sean tells Charlie his excuse for quitting his job.

Chapter 30:

a. Charlie isn't used to staying up past 10 p.m., but he was up almost until 1 a.m.

b. Charlie can't resist Azalea's biscuits and red-eye gravy.

c. Stewart is staying in the third-floor bedroom over Charlie's.

d. Eloise spent a lot of time with her husband's second cousin when Stewart came to Delacorte House as a child. They're only ten years apart.

Chapter 31:

a. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is another of Charlie's favorites. He owns a facsimile of the first edition.

b. Alexandra isn't used to dogs or cats because her mother wouldn't allow them in the house.

c. Alexandra knows Anita's niece, who is a paralegal.

d. Diesel can tolerate small amounts of cheese, but gets sick if he has too much.

Chapter 33: There's a Sherlock Holmes reference.

Chapter 35:

a. Charlie tells us what Helen Louise told him about the probable origin of Vichyssoise.

b. The Piggly Wiggly chain store is mentioned.

c. Stewart knows that chocolate is dangerous to dogs and cats.

d. There's a mention of the Nancy Drew mystery, The Hidden Staircase.

e. Stewart mentions a feature of Delacorte House that he and Cynthia played in when they were children.

The second Cat in the Stacks mystery introduces us to some of what will be regular supporting members of the cast besides being entertaining.

Dog lovers: A champagne miniature poodle named Dante has been added.

Cat lovers: Diesel is his charming self, of course. ( )
  JalenV | Sep 9, 2016 |
Charlie Harris is on vacation, it is spring break at the college and he is only working a few hours at the local Public Library. When one of his "regulars" approaches him at the Reference Desk Charlie is surprised to hear James Delacorte wants to use Charlie's expertise in dealing with his large and very exclusive book collection. Charlie agrees to help the old man as long as he can bring along Diesel, his Maine Coon cat.

What follows is an amazing story of dysfunctional families, theft, and murder. Diesel help solve part of the puzzle but Charlie and the local police/sheriff are working to find the murderer.

I do love this series. Diesel is a wonderful character and in this book Charlie gets to reconnect with his son, Sean. I'm a little behind on this series so I'm looking forward to the next in the series. ( )
  bookswoman | Oct 9, 2015 |
Classified as Murder
by Miranda James
Berkley Prime Crime, 2011
ISBN 9780425241578 (paperback), 294 pp.

Review date: August, 2015

Librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine coon cat Diesel have returned. In this second book of Miranda James' Cat in the Stacks series, Charlie is hired by local millionaire James Delacorte to inventory his collection of rare books—but the work barely begins before Delacorte is found dead, and Charlie's work becomes even more important, for Delacorte was certain someone was stealing books, and it looks like the thief might have been trying to hide that fact through murder.

Although I didn't care much for the first book in this series, I found the second, Classified as Murder, a slightly more engaging and entertaining read—hardly a masterpiece of mystery writing, of course, but a decent enough cozy mystery meant for quick and easy entertainment. The book introduces Charlie's son, Sean, who has recently quit his job as a corporate lawyer and come to stay with Charlie for a while; a subplot of the story focuses on their confrontation over years of estrangement, along with their eventual reconciliation—but don't expect too much depth out of it; since this is a pretty superficial cozy mystery book, that reconciliation is expected, even mandatory, and wrapped up simplistically. Also simplistic are the characters, mostly one-dimensional as in the previous book, although the members of James Delacorte's eccentric family—all suspects in the case—do have enough quirks to keep them fun and interesting throughout. The writing, too, is pretty simplistic, as seems to be the norm for this author, and Diesel the cat is still pretty gimmicky, if somewhat interesting and likable—although he does actually help in the case this time, albeit accidentally and in something of a deus ex machina way. Even the mystery itself is pretty simplistic, although with just enough complexity to keep readers guessing if their hunches are correct (hint: they probably are).

Because this book was slightly better than the first (thanks to the introduction of a bit of family drama and the quirky murder suspects), and because the series consists (so far) of only six books, I'll probably continue reading it for some light filler when I need it, but I'm certain it's not going to become one of my favorite series, and it's not one I'd really recommend to others, especially if they're looking for something with any real depth or literary quality.

——————————

Rating:

2½ stars: Better than average. Whereas many reviewers tend to be more generous, most works I rate receive two or three stars. At this rating, all my expectations have been met; there are few technical, conventional, or factual flaws, if any, and I found the work to be mildly entertaining and/or sufficiently informative, but it wouldn't be at the top of my list of recommendations. A 2½-star work is better than just "OK" but I wouldn't quite call it "good". Equivalent to a school grade of 'B-', or a little better than average. ( )
  tokidokizenzen | Aug 10, 2015 |
Bless Her Dead Little Heart is the first book in the A Southern Ladies Mystery series.

If the first book is any sign, then this series will be a very entertaining one. Readers first had a chance to read about the Ducote sisters in Out of Circulation, fourth book in the Cat In The Stacks Mystery series by James.

Just as An'gel and Dickce, who are cat sitting Diesel, Charlie Harris' cat. As they are beginning to settle in with their houseguest, Rosabelle Sultan, a former sorority sister who they haven't seen in 15years, comes to their door. She ask the sisters if she can stay a few days, as someone in her family is trying to kill her. Rosabelle has always been one to exaggerate things and they figure this is just another one of those times. But soon the whole family begins to arrive, Rosabelle's two daughters, her son and his wife, two grandsons and a granddaughter. Rosabelle is soon accusing everyone of trying to kill here for her money, the children are in turn making their case that mom is mentally unstable and needs to be committed to a mental health facility. Then, when Marla, the daughter in law slips on water on the marble stair case and falls, breaking her neck, the sisters begin to wonder if she was the intended victim or Rosabelle. So they begin to watch everyones action and report their information to Kanesha the deputy in charge of the investigation.

The sisters are a very fun and interesting couple of ladies. They try and not hurt each others feeling, but are more than willing to share with the reader, their feelings. Clementine, their housekeeper/cook is delight and very flexible with the large influx of guests.

A very fun read and I highly recommend it, especially to the fans of Diesel. Looking forward to the next book. ( )
  FredYoder | May 9, 2015 |
Accompanied by his feline companion, Diesel, Charlie Harris finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery when a wealthy collector of rare books hires him to inventory his collection under the suspicion that some are missing. Harris, mild-mannered librarian, also finds additional difficulties when his son comes into town unexpectedly and under mysterious circumstances.

Though the writing could be a tad stilted at times, and maybe the mystery wasn't quite as polished as Lillian Braun's Cat Who mysteries, Charlie and Diesel are a delightful sleuthing team, and I enjoyed it as a fast, fun read (I will admit to being biased toward cozy mysteries, particularly of this ilk, as I myself work in a library and live with two cats who have never, to my knowledge, helped me solve any crimes). It's not a classic, but perfect for curling up with under a blanket during a rainy day. If you have a cat who chooses to curl up next to you, well, all the better. In short, Classified as Murder upheld the genre's name: it was cozy - a comfortable, diverting read, filled with Southern charm, a precocious Maine Coone, and a librarian who finds himself constantly in over his head.

( )
  kittyjay | Apr 23, 2015 |
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In loving memory of my cousin, Terry James (1955-2009), who left us far too soon.
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When I was a boy growing up in Athena, Mississippi, forty-odd years ago, the public library occupied a large one-story house built in 1842.
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Aging eccentric James Delacorte asks Charlie the librarian to do an inventory of his rare book collection-but the job goes from tedious to terrifying when James turns up dead. Relying on his Maine Coon cat Diesel to paw around for clues, Charlie has to catch the killer before another victim checks out.… (more)

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