Friday, September 11, 2009

Review: Shades of Grey by Clea Simon

The cat on the middle step was washing its face, carefully licking its left paw and then running it over each ear in turn.

"Mr. Grey?" It made no sense. The cat kept washing, straining sideways now to get its tongue into the thick grey ruff.

Dulcie closed her eyes. The heat, grief, and these damned pantyhose. She was losing it. When she dared to look again, the cat was gone. [pg 3-4]

Shades of Grey by Clea Simon
Severn House, 2009
Crime Fiction; 216 pgs

Having read and enjoyed author Clea Simon's Theda Krakow series, I looked forward to trying her new series featuring Dulcie Schwartz, a doctoral student specializing in gothic literature at Harvard University. Besides, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet a ghost cat, could I?

In order to help pay the bills, Dulcie has sublet her roommate's room in their apartment to another college student, a rather obnoxious man who likes the ladies. Dulcie isn't too fond of him, but she would never have wished him dead, which is exactly how she finds him one evening after a long day at work. He's been stabbed to death with her own knife. A cat that looks an awful lot like her former companion, Mr. Grey, tried to warn her not to enter the apartment, but Dulcie dismisses the voice in her head, and goes in anyway.

Besides finding herself a suspect in her roommate's murder, things aren't going so well at Dulcie's workplace either. Someone has been hacking into the computer system at the insurance company and suspicion seems to have fallen on Dulcie, whose temp position began not long before the trouble started. Dulcie cannot afford to lose her job, at least not before the school year starts and her grant kicks in.

As to that grant, she may lose that if she cannot come up with a thesis topic. She's drawing a blank and with the drama unfolding around her, is it any wonder? Could someone be trying to frame her for both crimes? Dulcie is not sure who to trust, even amongst her friends.

I took an instant liking to Dulcie. She lives and breathes gothic literature. And is it any wonder with a name like Dulcinea straight out of the gothic novel, Don Quixote? She is bookish and good-hearted. Some may find Dulcie’s penchant for day dreaming to be distracting, but I found it endearing (not to mention a little all to familiar). Dulcie was not the only character who won me over in Shades of Grey, and I look forward to discovering more about them in future books.

The author was very subtle in her handling of the supernatural element of the novel. While Mr. Grey is clearly a spirit, his few appearances in the novel are understated, and, as a result, come across as quite natural and believable. It suited the novel well.

There are several bookish references for the book lover within the pages of Shades of Grey. My favorite location in the novel was the Widener library. I would have loved to venture down into the lower floors of the library along with Dulcie, losing myself in the pages of an original copy of a gothic novel.

Shades of Grey was a pleasure to read. There’s plenty of mystery, a bit of thrill and even some romance. There was something about the tone--the atmosphere--that I found especially appealing. Perhaps a hint of that gothic flare coming out in Simon’s tale? It looks like I have a new series to add to my must read list.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge & 2009 Pub Challenge

You can learn more about Clea Simon and her books on the author's website and on her blog, Cats & Crime & Rock & Roll.

If you haven't already, be sure and check out Clea Simon's guest post: In Defense of Leisurely Lit.

Many thanks to Clea for sending me a copy of her book for review.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. How cool is all of this? A murder mystery, a cat spirit? An author who has a site called Cats & Crime & Rock & Roll? Can't believe this series has passed me by!

  2. Thank you, Wendy, and thank you, Sandy!
    I'm so glad Dulcie is getting such a warm welcome. And, Sandy, nothing has passed you by: Theda (my rock and roll heroine) now has four adventures out there, but Dulcie is new this month - though her second outing ("Grey Matters") is already done and will be published in the US in March.

  3. Clea! Great to see you here -- have fun on your virtual tour!

  4. I think I'm going to have to put this one on the wishlist. Thanks for the great review, Wendy!

  5. This sounds like a good book and it's always fun to get in on the ground floor of a new series.

  6. thanks for the kind words, folks! If you'd like to read a bit more, I have the first chapter up on my home website -

    thanks again, Wendy!

  7. Great review, Wendy! I already read the book and loved it. If you like well-crafted mysteries with multi-dimensional, well-developed characters, and if you love cats, you will love Shades of Grey, and, like me, you will be impatient for the next in the series, Grey Matters to come out.

  8. Ghost cat? Well I know I'll have to try this now. I love stories about ghosts and stories about animals so it's little wonder that those that combine both are some of my favorites.

  9. Sandy - I couldn't resist that combination. It's a great start to a new series.

    Clea - Thank you for the opportunity to read and review Shades of Grey! I look forward to spending more time with Dulcie in the future.

    Becke - Thanks for stopping by!

    Florinda - I hope you enjoy it if you do read it, Florinda!

    Kathy - I agree. Then you don't feel overwhelmed trying to catch up from the beginning.

    Lenore - Haha! Cats are irresistible, aren't they?

    Ingrid - Thank you. I can't wait for Grey Matters!

    Jen - I hope you do give it a try. I'd love to hear what you think of it.

  10. This does sound irresistible. And I'm a sucker for series!

  11. You rated this very good so it goes on my TBR list immediately. I like the whole idea behind the book so I really can't wait to read this one!

  12. Dulcie sounds like a great heroine. I'm normally not very keen on mysteries where pets are a big part of the story (sorry! - that sounds awful I know) but I may just have to add this one to my list. Sounds very good! :)

  13. Oh, that sounds cool! I just added it to my list.

  14. Beth - Me too. I can't resist a new series.

    Staci - That's what drew me to it too, Staci. Loved the idea behind it. I can't wait to read more in the series.

    Iliana - One of the things I like about Clea's mysteries is that the cats, while significant, aren't overbearing and don't take over the story. The humans do the actual crime solving. That held true for this one as well.

    Laura - I hope you like it when you get to it!

  15. Wendy - I just got the proofs of GREY MATTERS, so expect that one for your TBR pile in a few months.

    Thanks everyone!!

  16. Wendy, every time you post about one of Clea Simon's book I think I should give one a try, but I still haven't done so. This new series sounds like it might be a good place to start!

  17. Nat - I think this would be a good place to start too. :-)

  18. Wow, this book sounds great. Thanks for mentioning it!

  19. Andreea - You're welcome! I hope you get the chance to read it.


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