Sex, power trips, blackmail, murder - Red Cat, the latest crime novel by Peter Spiegelman featuring the intrepid P.I. John March, has it all. Some reviewers have described the book with the coined phrase “porn noir,” but none of the sex is very graphic. Still, it is there, in your face, and when you’re done reading Red Cat, you’ll know your mother was right when she warned you to “beware of strangers.” Especially ones you meet through personal ads or via the Internet. If you like your crime novels hard-boiled and with more than a touch of sex to spice your interest, you’re sure to enjoy reading this book.
If you’re a P.I., how do you deal with difficult clients? It takes a deep understanding of the human psyche, and knowledge of when to use kid gloves or an iron fist. John March knows well, like The Shadow, the darkness that lurks in the hears of men. When he takes on his own brother, David March, as a client, even he is tested by David’s stubbornness and lack of cooperation. David wants John to locate, identify, and find out information about a woman he only knows of as Wren whom he met through a personal ad to have sex with. It has to be done as quietly and as discretely as possible so that his wife and boss don’t learn about his affair and Wren’s subsequent threats to expose him. She can be identified by a tattoo of a red cat on her thigh.
Wren has been living multiple lives, John March discovers. She’s been an actress, playwright, and artist in the past, and has gone by the names of Holly Cade and Cassandra Z as well as Wren. Under her pseudonym of Cassandra Z, she’s had her greatest financial success, earning six figures for her cinematic and pornographic “art”.
David is not the first man she’s had an affair with, caught on film, and threatened to blackmail - he’s one of many. Cassandra Z calls here movies Interviews, and she has hidden cameras record every detail of what transpires. She has someone record their first meetings in restaurants or bars, where the men often try to establish guidelines and rules. The men are motivated by different things, but they all are on power trips, desiring total control of the sexual encounters they have with the woman they know of as Wren.
Their sex is also filmed, though she has the men’s faces obscured, and next the “Investigative Phase” begins. She searches through their wallets for ID and researches them with her computer. She uses the information she learns to psychologically break the men down and get them to admit on camera why they do what they do and risk so much, like their marriages, careers, and relationships with their wives and kids. Wren (or Cassandra Z) is the one who has really been in a power role all along, as the men come to realize at this stage.
When her dead body surfaces, shot four times in the face, David March immediately jumps to the head of the list of suspects. It doesn’t help him that someone has mailed a copy of his Interview to the cops, and that David’s lawyer has suggested that he tell the police all he knows about Wren and her attempts to blackmail him - but he hasn’t acted on his lawyer’s request. He fears the loss of his job and the destruction of his marriage, and the body hasn’t been identified to that particular point, so he reasons, why embarrass myself needlessly?
Red Cat is a rare type of cat - a crime novel that successfully mixes lust, sex, and murder without being overly graphic. The characters’ motivations actions are well thought-out and ring true. You’ll be kept wondering, in the tradition of the best detective fiction, to the end of the book who murdered Wren and why. There are plenty of reasons several people had to want her dead, and the fun part is to try to deduce who did it before John March does. It’s a lustrous, elegant crime novel, to borrow two very apt adjectives The New York Times Book Review uses. Recommended for those who like a little kink in the mysteries they read.