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Frank Gertcher
The Cat's Paw Murders
The Cat’s Paw Murders is the fourth novel in the Caroline Case mystery series. In 1930, Caroline and Hannibal Jones become paid espionage operatives for the French government. As wealthy expatriate Americans, they have the perfect cover. They are tasked with gathering intelligence about the intentions, methods and organizations of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. As part of their espionage duties, they bring murderous criminals and spies to justice, legally and otherwise. However, competing French politicians and bureaucrats fight for funds and influence. Caroline and Hannibal face extreme danger from certain French authorities as well as sinister Nazi secret police and their criminal associates. As Caroline and Hannibal pursue and dodge the bad guys, they take sleuthing to a sophisticated, intricate and exciting new level.
“I will evolve from sleuth to spy,” the hero declares at the start of this winning continental mystery. Gertcher’s fourth entry in the Caroline Case series finds the now globe-trotting Caroline Jones and her husband, Hannibal, still in France in the early 1930s, tasked by the Deuxiéme Bureau with keeping tabs, as espionage agents, on the fascist movements rising in Italy and Germany—all while Caroline continues doing what she has always done best, from the Wabash Valley to European capitols: solving murders. The game’s afoot as early as the couple’s espionage training, when another prospective agent turns up dead. The case—and the others spinning out from it—eventually suggests that the nascent Nazi movement already has secured more power and reach than anyone expects.

The scope of Gertcher’s series has expanded, with Caroline’s cases now connected to globe-shaking events, but her sprightly, sparkling narrative voice remains a pleasure, and for all the winds of war gathered around her the tale remains agreeably breezy. That’s true even as Caroline handles encounters with Göring and Goebbels, endures Nazi squad combat in Germany, and faces the horrors of Mussolini’s colonization of Northern Africa. While crisply engaging, the tone never diminishes the real-world urgency of the material; Caroline proves as skilled with ammo clips as she is with clues.

The travelogue plotting keeps the events fresh, even as the variety of locales and missions lend this outing a serialized feeling. Holding it all together, though, is the paranoia that powers so many espionage tales: as she travels to Berlin, Vienna, Mogadishu and elsewhere, striving to untangle a particularly knotted set of webs involving assassinations, slavery, and the 20th century’s greatest monsters, who can Caroline trust? Wielding a Walther when necessary, the sleuth turned spy scrambles to stay a step ahead, saving lives and cracking cases but not always pulling off a perfect victory, as she slowly comes to understand the bigger threat: the shadow of Hitler.

Takeaway: A sleuth turns spy and faces the fascist threat in this engaging 1930s mystery thriller.

Great for fans of: Philip Kerr, Len Deighton.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A