Jeanne is back this week with some thoughts on the phenomenon of putting cats on book covers…..
Treadmill Books: Cats on Book Covers
Anyone who has browsed the mystery paperback racks knows there are lots (and lots and lots) of books with either cats or dogs on the cover. Being partial to cats, I immediately gravitate to those. First I look to see how prominently the cat is featured: is it a small, unobtrusive cat or is it front and center? Front and center gets my attention first, but I’ll also take a look at any with feline present.
However, a cat on the cover doesn’t mean there’s a cat in the book. Often authors feel obligated to insert a passing cat to justify the image, such as, “I raced to my car to follow the serial killer, and the neighborhood stray cat ran under the bushes to get out of my way.” Authors, you don’t have to do that for me. I understand that these days a cat on a cover is meant to convey that this is a cozy mystery, just as a plate of fried chicken on a checkered tablecloth means Southern cozy. Actual fried chicken may or may not appear in this book.
Actually, I don’t demand or even expect a cat be part of a book. A well written book with complex, likable characters or a clever plot that keeps me engaged is a winner every time. In fact, some of my favorite mysteries do not feature cats. Give me a sleuth, amateur or professional, with flaws but who doesn’t wallow in self-pity, who doesn’t find a new lust object every book or else who doesn’t think their Significant Other is cheating/leaving five times a book, who follows up on clues without being foolhardy, and who is a decent human being without being a saint or a doormat, and I’m in. Or else give me a fiendishly clever solvable puzzle, one that will keep me guessing until the end, and I’ll be happy.
So why do I look for covers with cats on them? When it comes to new authors and series, I expect a certain percentage to be, well, average at best. In some cases it takes time for characters to grow on me, and if there’s a cute cat around I can be more patient. There have been books I would have given up on long before the end if I hadn’t been hoping that terrific tabby or adorable angora might show up again. They’re my backup plan. Some of these series have become fairly decent series, despite lackluster beginnnings; I hung in there only because of Muffy the Maine Coon or Simone the Siamese, and now I’m glad I did. If there’s a cat on the cover, but no cat in the book , it’s okay providing the book meets the above criteria, i.e., is well written with complex characters and a decent plot.
Also, there are books in which the cats are the ONLY redeeming quality. I’ve read more than a couple of tales in which the amateur sleuth needs to be hit in the head with a common sense stick or else needs to develop a backbone or learn to follow up on clues before she or he ends up the next victim—the acronym TSTL exists for a reason. I may swear I’ll never read another book by the Honorable Mrs. Mewington, but when a new book comes out with Charming Billy the grey tabby or Crazy Fred the ring-tailed wonder or amiable Melon the overweight ginger and white on the cover, I tell myself that surely it couldn’t have been as bad as I remembered and find myself buying a copy.
I will add one caveat, though: if there is a cat on the cover but the only time a cat is mentioned is when the heroine complains about stray cats being a nuisance, then that’s an immediate deal breaker. I don’t ask that the author and/or heroine LIKE cats, but I draw the line at active dislike. And yes, there was such a book. The heroine was so-so, a supporting character was really annoying, the rest of the characters were bland, and I don’t remember any of the plot, though I assume there was one. The cat was my only hope, and when that was dashed, the book became a rare DNF.