Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Furry Question by Brad Parks

Brad Parks’s debut, FACES OF THE GONE, became the first book ever to win the Nero Award and Shamus Award, two of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His second book, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, just released from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. Library Journal gave it a starred review, calling it “as good if not better (than) his acclaimed debut.” For more Brad, sign up for his newsletter (, follow him on Twitter ( or became a fan of Brad Parks Books on Facebook (


By Brad Parks

One of the fun things about being an author is the stuff you learn about your own work from readers kind enough to share their thoughts.

I look forward to getting that feedback on my second book, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, which released on Tuesday, if only because I was so surprised by one aspect of the reaction to my first book:

I learned, without question, who everyone’s favorite character is.

It’s not Carter Ross, my protagonist, the sometimes-dashing investigative newspaper reporter who serves as the book’s narrator.

It’s not Tommy Hernandez, Carter’s sidekick, the gay Cuban intern who does some of the leg work and provides a constant fashion critique.

It’s not Tina Thompson, Carter’s off-and-on girlfriend, the smokin’ hot city editor with the sharp tongue.
No. Everyone’s favorite character is one that, actually, doesn’t do all that much. He sleeps most of the day. His other favorite activity is eating. He is never responsible for moving the plot forward. He has no dialogue.

After all, he’s a cat.

His name is Deadline, which struck me as a fitting name for a newspaper reporter’s feline friend. He’s a black-and-white domestic shorthair who is usually described only in terms of his indolence.

And yet people love him. It is fair to say that from my first book, FACES OF THE GONE, reader e-mail about Deadline outpaced any other character by at least a 3:1 ratio. Maybe more like 5:1.

Readers who may or may not have been impressed by any other aspect of the book – my deathless prose, the crackling repartee between characters, the thrilling conclusion – felt compelled to write about Deadline.

Anita Miller, a reviewer for the Colorado Springs Gazette, even went so far as to publicly announce that the only reason she gave my book a favorable review is because of Deadline.
And I’m not knocking it. As a still-new author, I’m just pleased people are reading me at all.

I just don’t get it.

Here, for example, is a scene that is typical of Deadline’s appearances, this one from the just-released book. In this scene, Carter’s newest colleague – an intern everyone calls “Sweet Thang,” who has made her crush on Carter quite known – is dropping by Carter’s place (uh, Deadline’s place) for dinner…

My house is what realtors would call “cozy,” but only because it's “so small you can vacuum the entire thing without having to change plugs” doesn’t fit as well on a multiple listing service entry.  But I liked it just fine. After all, it was just me and Deadline. And Deadline didn’t like to travel too far for the litter box.

As a modern bachelor, I shop on an as-needed basis and keep nothing beyond the bare essentials in my refrigerator: beer, processed cheese, salsa and, possibly, milk (for morning cereal). Anything else will grow a beard and be applying for credit cards by the time I get around to throwing it out.

My freezer is a different story. The freezer, I have discovered, is the key for the on-the-go single guy such as myself, because you can keep things in there for months and not have to worry about it looking like a breeding ground for penicillin. 

Meats. Sauces. Side dishes. Entrees. They’re all in there, all pre-made. And they’re all frozen while still fresh. That’s the mistake most people make with their freezers. If you toss in leftovers because you know they’re about to turn, a couple months in the deep freeze is not going to make them perk up. You have to put some love in your freezer if you expect it to love you back.
After we dashed inside, dodging rain drops all the way, I did a quick freezer raid and – rejecting options that would require some assembly – came away with sausage lasagna and a half a baguette. I tossed them both in the oven, lit some candles (another modern bachelor must-have) and opened a bottle of red wine.

Sweet Thang was checking out my living room, which also doubled as my family room, sitting room, great room and TV room. She cooed at Deadline, who was pressing himself against her thigh, in something near rapture. I’ve heard of people judging new acquaintances based on how their pets respond to them – because, after all, if Fluffy likes you, you must be okay.

That wouldn’t work with Deadline. He accepts affection indiscriminate of the source. A masked, knife-wielding assailant could break into my home and hack me into a dozen pieces as I slept. But if he stopped to rub Deadline behind his left ear on the way out, Deadline would be purring so loudly you’d think someone started a lawnmower in the next room.

Deadline’s other appearances are similar. His primary role is to be that lump in the bed that Carter has to shove aside when he goes to sleep at night.

Yet I have no doubt Deadline will continue to enjoy a large lead in reader e-mail. And I know I’m hardly alone among authors in having that experience.

I still just don’t get it.

So maybe you Meanderings and Musing readers can help me: What is it readers find so irresistible about pets as characters?


Kay said...

Ok, I'm hooked. Not only did I like the cat, I really liked the writing. Just added both to my "want list."

Thanks, Kaye, like I *need* more books in my apartment. ;-)

Sandra Parshall said...

I loved your first book and will also love the second if Deadline makes a return appearance. I tend to read darker crime fiction rather than cozies, but I find that even the noirest of the noir can be improved by the addition of a pet.

For the last two years, I moderated a panel at Malice Domestic on the topic of animals in mysteries, trying to determine why readers go gaga over them. Some answers: Most people have pets, and they can identify more readily with a character who cares about an animal. Pets illuminate the human characters. Pets can be a source of unexpected humor in a dark story (as in yours). Pets are innocent, so the reader doesn't have to figure them out or suffer ambivalent feelings about them. Pets are... well, they're just plain adorable, and they make people smile. Most people enjoy smiling.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I think Deadline needs a spin-off series, Brad! :)

Erika Chase said...

Many readers have a pet of their own so can relate to a character who shares his space with one. It makes the character more approachable and takes the edge off, at least while he's at home or shopping in the pet aisle at the local supermarket.
They also provide a balance to the violence of a murder, be it in a cosy or more hard-boiled.
And besides...cats and mysteries...they just go together!

Anonymous said...

Kay -- EVERY living space could use a few more books. I mean, if a library can keep adding to its collection by the thousands, certainly you can add a few more. ;)

Anonymous said...

Sandra and Erika -- I think you guys have definitely hit on something. It's actually making me think I need to expect Deadline's role a little in future stuff...

but, uh, that said? Spin-off series, Elizabeth? Not a chance. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I should add: Thanks for having me here, Kaye, and I hope you are absolutely savoring your retirement. (Says the 36-year-old whose generation will probably NEVER get to retire).

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Hi, guys - thanks for coming by!

Brad - Thanks for being here! And thank you for the happy retirement wishes - so far it still just feels like vacation. But. I'm betting reality will eventually set in - and I'm betting that will be prompted by my financial state.

I'm enjoying all the theories about pets in books. I think a protag who owns a pet becomes a little more real to me. A little more human, and one I think I'm going to like almost immediately.

Lesa said...

I agree that the pet makes the character a little bit more human. But, here I'll disagree, Brad, and say I love Carter Ross. He's my favorite character.

Now, remember, Deadline and Carter may have lost one house, but if anything happens to Deadline, you're toast. I'm sure you know by now there are people who read mysteries who will never forgive you, and will curse you forever if you injure or kill Deadline. Carter's going to be stuck with him until Carter dies of old age. All of those readers who love Deadline? You'll lose them all. The Cardinal Sin in mystery writing is killing an animal.