The Clutches of Mimi Bouchard by John Travis
Reviewed by martin willoughby
Private detective Benji Spriteman is back. The third novel in this series shows, yet again, John Travis’ clever writing and storytelling, not to mention his imagination.
After a few months without much in the way of work, an incident with a Toucan breathes a little life into Benji. Then he receives a request to investigate a dead family member, leading to a vision of heaven and hell in one cat, which results in a trail of mayhem, murder, and deceit.
Benji took over his former owners’ business as a private detective after the Terror. Several years previously, many in the animal kingdom grew, became sentient and took over the world. With humanity consigned to the past, their pets and other animals became the dominant intelligence. Everything changed, and nothing changed. The former pets, zoo animals, and other assorted creatures continued as the humans before had. Murders and crime included.
The Kowalskis come to Benji, asking him to investigate the killing of their brother Gino. They called him their brother even though he was still an ordinary dog, one of the animals that did not become sentient as a result of the Terror. They’d lived in the same house as pets, so Sascha and Willie treated him as an equal. Even if he did bark a lot of the time.
Their prime suspect is the owner of a salon a little way down the road, a cat known as Mimi Bouchard: good-looking, well-dressed and with a temper born of a tyrannical toddler. A salon that Benji’s secretary, Taki, had just been to and had her fur ruined. As the case develops, it becomes clear that Mimi is not just running a salon. She has amassed a property empire and several shadier enterprises in back rooms and other assorted places.
Before long, the body count increases, and the case gets messier and more complex while Benji is still trying to get a decent cup of coffee. [Benji survives, in case you were wondering. How else could there be another novel in the future? At least, I hope this is the plan.] Near the end, you’re not sure who else will end up dead or who did what to whom. The final chapters, however, tie up the case and the novel neatly and sensibly.
Once again, John Travis has written a detective story with twists, turns, and red herrings, all tied up at the end, including the episode with the Toucan, which is linked to the main events, but then again, not. Or is it?
If you’ve read the previous two books, the familiar cast is still there. If you haven’t, you will get all the introductions you need so it can be read as a stand-alone novel. The ability to do that without a lot of padding is a testament to Travis’ skill as a writer.
There’s Mouse, who does a lot of work on stakeouts and writes reports that are dull but precise. Harvey is a doughnut seller who, due to his long teeth, no one takes seriously and can listen in on conversations. There’s Lt. Dingus, the Bassett Hound, in the police department whose nose is so sensitive he can tell what you had for breakfast. Finally, there’s Taki, the strong-willed secretary who is more than happy to tear Benji down a strip to keep him firmly on planet Earth.
What I find most intriguing about this book is the world Travis has created. This is not a simple replacement of humans by animals. He’s created a world where, although there are human traits in our replacements, each sentient creature has retained its own animal behaviours too. Goats still headbutt, cats still preen, dogs sniff each other and squirrels are easily distracted.
All in all, a highly recommended book and one that will keep you enthralled and entertained in equal measure.