25 Jun 2010
Cats and dogs don’t live together in “The Unscratchables,” a parody police procedural that deftly and punnily mixes the tropes of the genre with a world in which dogs are downtrodden curs segregated from the cream of cat society, but they do rub along in a way that’ll raise the hairs on the back on anyone’s neck.
The story is told through the color-blind eyes of Crusher McNash, a bull terrier detective for the San Bernardo Slaughter Unit. The short-tempered mutt who bears a temperamental resemblance to Mickey Spillaine’s Mike Hammer goes ballistic when the possible involvement of a cat in a series of dismemberment murders he’s working on gets him assigned a partner: Cassius Lap from the Feline Bureau of Investigation.
There’s a lot of reasons for McNash to hate Lap. The well-bred kitty from Kathattan is intelligent, well-dressed and imperturbable. He is also Siamese, and McNash remembers how he was captured and tortured during the recent war with Siam (yeah, Kane is referencing Vietnam). And Lap, who studied dog psychology in college, knows all the right words to make McNash obey his orders.
Fans of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s books will also see a certain resemblance between Lap and their Southern-fried detective hero, FBI Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendegrast (in fact, it seemed like I could read his dialogue in the same cadences Scott Brick uses in his audio versions of the series).
The rest of the book follows McNash and Lap through the underbelly and behind the ears of society as they investigate the killings. They encounter the media magnate Phineas Reynard, and McNash falls hard for the fox’s glamour wife that leads to an assignation in a hotel room. There’s political pressure from above to drop the case as the duo works with Lap’s former partner, the serial killer Quentin Riossiti (think Hannibal Lecter), as they realize that they’re uncovering a conspiracy that reaches those who pull the leash.
As you can see, it’s easy to get into the spirit of the book. Kane ? actually Australian literary thriller writer Anthony O’Neill ? peppers puns and animal-associated words in every page, and his freshness and inventiveness is on a part with Jasper Fforde.
I don’t know if McNash and Lap will return, and while the reader in me hopes so, the writer in me hopes not. Kane has created a perfect mix of noir and parody, that it would be a shame to dilute it with sequels. “The Unscratchables” is a shaggy-dog story with not a flea on its glossy coat.