Rubyfruit-jungleA long time ago a friend sent me down a reading path that changed my life. She was one of those people that had a talent for recommending great books. Whenever she told me that I would like something, I did.

Her greatest suggestion of all was not what she had intended. It started when she told me I would love a book called “Rubyfruit Jungle” by Rita Mae Brown. It was a once controversial book about lesbianism. When I told my friend I had never heard of Mrs. Brown she implored me to get off my rear end and run to the nearest library right that second to pick up a copy. So, I did!

I found an entire section of the library dedicated to Mrs. Brown, but was disappointed to see “Rubyfruit Jungle” was already checked out. I scanned the shelf a few times to make sure it was gone on my final check I noticed a little black cat peeking at me from the spine of another Rita Mae Brown book.  This particular book had additional writing credit given to a cat named Sneaky Pie Brown.

Purrfect-MurderOk, so now I’m intrigued… It was the first time I had ever seen a book of this type, a cozy cat mystery. It just sounds funny, right? I picked up the “The Purrfect Murder” and was immersed in the little world of Crozet, Virginia where postmistress Mary (Harry) Harristein solves crimes with an unlikely trio of companions, her two cats and a devoted corgi.

I went on to read almost the entire series of cozy mysteries written from the point of view of Harry’s sleuthing cat Mrs. Murphy. The stories were so real to me that when the federal post office downsized in real life I wondered what happened to Harry and her little office.

It seems like the rest of the world has caught on to my love of this genre as Amazon now has its own section called “Cozy Animal Mysteries.” To this day I have still not read “Rubyfruit Jungle” but I have read almost all of the masterpieces co-written by Sneaky Pie Brown.

I don’t know why those cat books resonated with me so much. I was in my early 20s when I found them. It was at a time in my life when things were turbulent and uncertain. I had just graduated from college and the economy was at the height of the recession. I found myself underemployed and worried about my future and how I would pay back my student loans. I would get home from work, go to my apartment that I had just enough money to pay for, and walk to my local library. It was my outlet~the only way I could get out of the house, be entertained and not spend any money. I would check out a mystery, walk back home or to a local park and sit reading them just to be out and about.

The escape I felt reading them was in the stability that they presented. The world around the animals was filled with murder and criminals, but rarely did the evil effect them directly and good always won in the end. The tension in an otherwise frightening story never fully elevated because the crime was always filtered through the mind of an animal and offset by sweet animal thoughts and of cats wishing for treats. They were books full of excitement without additional anxiety.

I liked thinking about living in Harry’s cozy home and imagining that I was there with her as she made tea for her many guests. The world of Crozet with its horseback rides and rich southern families was simpler than my complicated life~ it was a welcome escape.

I thought about my precarious beginnings with cat mysteries when I saw how popular they have become. More than 200 books are now categorized by Amazon as “Cozy Animal Mysteries.” I wonder what would have gotten me through those tough times had it not been for Mrs. Murphy and her gang. Luckily,  I found them. For anybody still reeling from the effects of the recession or those needing an escape from the doldrums of modern life I recommend you make a pot of tea, sit in a cozy place and curl up with a cat mystery.

Nicole Loughan is a professional writer and author. She loves mystery, humor and a little romance. Her books are packed with what she loves and are available through her website