The Unscratchables by Cornelius Kane (a.k.a. Anthony O’Neill) is the best book I’ve read all year. I read it in one day and I want more. It is a mystery novel about an unlikely duo brought together to solve a series of violent murders. Detective Max McNash is an ordinary blue collar cop patrolling a tough neighborhood. He’s a fan of boxing, eats his dinner from a can and has some baggage left over from the war. F.B.I. agent Cassius Lap is an erudite intellectual with a taste for soy milk and a collection of degrees from prestigious schools. McNash drives a beat-up Rover. Lap has a brand new Jaguar. Lap lives in luxury on the salmon shapes island of Kathattan. McNash patrols the mean streets of The Kennel. Lap is a cinnamon-point Siamese. McNash is a ‘bullie’, or bull terrier. They both live in a parrallel universe where cats and dogs go to work, drive cars, shoot guns, read The Scratching Post, and watch movies starring Brad Pitbull.
The Unscratchables is a satire that perfectly apes classic detective novels, and also takes aim at the ills of our own society. The main concept, animal protagonists, is irressistable in and of itself. The story is full of nervous Whippets, slobbering Mastiffs, and sly foxes. But the charm is more than just furry characters. The whole world is incredibly detailed, and it’s amazing how well Kane turns the hard-boiled language of noir fiction on its head. The animals have their own slang and sayings. Chihuahuas are ‘wowers, cars are ‘tooters, the sly fox drives a Fuchswagen. It rains “rats and mice” while pups and kittens visit The Museum of Reigning Cats and Dogs. It’s also a world full of references to our own. Some are broad ( i.e. quotations from Shakespaw), some not so much; the McNash pups attend an Obedience School with the motto “Give me the pup at 7 months, and I’ll give you the dog”. The puns and homages are endlessly amusing, but there’s more cooking than just wordplay. Kane explores how the natural psychology of dogs and cats affects their interaction. The dogs may be smart, but they just can’t help but obey words like ‘stay’ and ‘fetch’. This obedience has made it easy for the feline elite to manipulate the canine masses.
What starts as a murder leads to a massive conspiracy and a web of corruption that leads all the way up to President Goodboy. It’s no spoiler to say that our heroes overcome their mutual prejudices and develop an affection for each other. Eventually the mystery is solved. On the way, there are good cats and bad cats. There’s a Hannibal Lecter cat. There are good and bad dogs. There’s sly fox and his vixen. There’s a message about mutual respect and understanding, and a warning about the dangers of obeying too easily.
I really hope this becomes a series.