Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Review: Grey Matters by Clea Simon

Professor Bullock's office was an academic's hideaway, a throwback to an earlier era. Bookshelves ran up every wall, which between the dim lighting and the constant fog of tobacco seemed to be even taller than they probably were, reaching to an unseen - doubtless smoke stained - ceiling. A series of lamps, some precariously perched on piles of books, shed strategic shafts of light on the professor's stained blotter and one shabby reading chair, its armrests pockmarked with small burns. No computers had infiltrated this bookish retreat, nor any other signs of the last century really. [pg 3]

Grey Matters
by Clea Simon
Severn House, 2010
Crime Fiction; 232 pgs

A mystery with Gothic undertones seems a fitting book to read on a rainy day; at least I think so. I enjoyed my introduction to author Clea Simon's latest series in Shades of Grey, and looked forward to revisiting Dulcie and friends in the second novel, Grey Matters. A murder, dark secrets, a ghostly cat, and a dash of romance make for an entertaining read.

Dulcie Schwartz hasn't had a particularly good week. Her roommate Suze is busy with her final year of law school and a new boyfriend. Dulcie's own boyfriend, Chris, seems distracted, always working with hardly any time for her these days. The new kitten in her life is no substitute for her beloved Mr. Grey, who seems to only appear to her in ghostly form when she needs a little nudge or to be comforted. Her thesis adviser isn't on the same page in terms of her research, and Dulcie feels at a loose ends as a result. After a meeting with her adviser, she nearly stumbles over the dead body of a fellow graduate student right outside her adviser's house. As she looks at those around her as possible clues as to why he was murdered, she discovers that quite a few people around her are holding secrets of their own. Dulcie does not like to think the worst of her friends and colleagues, but she cannot ignore that something is going on, and one of them just might be involved in the murder.

The kinship I felt with the main protagonist in the first book was renewed in the second as I stepped into Dulcie's life again. I cannot help but think just how much she and I are alike personality wise. We both have a penchant for letting our minds wander--and analyzing just about everything we hear and see. She is rather soft-spoken and kindhearted. Dulcie may not always say what is on her mind immediately, but she is not afraid to take risks or do what must be done. She is ever curious, a trait that occasionally puts her in the middle of danger, however unintentional.

Throughout the novel, Dulcie continues to struggle with her graduate thesis. Her recent research threatens to derail all the progress she has made. My own graduate school experience was quite different from Dulcie's, but then, so was my discipline. The self-doubt and challenges that come with research and juggling other academic responsibilities is something I remember all too well.

As a book lover, I really like the bookish side of Dulcie and her love for books. Her interest in 18th century Gothic literature seemed particularly intriguing to me this round, having just read a historical fiction book set in that time. A book had been alluded to in that particular novel that stirred my interest and I found myself researching novels written during that time. Even though I hadn't yet begun reading Grey Matters, I had, in fact, thought about Dulcie and Clea Simon, wondering if they had come across the same titles in their own research.

The cats are as delightful as ever, and not at all overbearing to the story. I couldn't help but see my Anya in the kitten Dulcie had taken in and Parker in Mr. Grey. While Mr. Grey occasionally offers Dulcie cryptic advice, his appearances are more often than not rather vague--did Dulcie really see a swish of a tail or feel a presence rub against her leg? While it's clear that Dulcie believes so, others around her aren't so sure.

All of this is wrapped around the murder mystery in such a way that made it all the more intriguing. I was never quite sure who to suspect of what, but I knew something was up just as Dulcie did. Although I have enjoyed each of the books author Clea Simon has written that I have read, both in her Theda Krakow series and in this one, I must say that Grey Matters is her best book yet.

Rating: * (Very Good)

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

Source: My copy of Grey Matters was provided by the author for review.

© 2010, 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. This sounds rather fascinating - I would love to read it to see how the cats impact upon the story... very interesting. Thank you for a thought provoking review.


  2. I'm intrigued by the premise of this book, Wendy. I love reading characters who have a passion for books and reading, something which we all can relate to, huh? ;)

  3. Hmmm....mystery, love of 18th century literature, gothic setting? Sounds like the perfect combination for me. I will have to add this title to the pile.

  4. Your review hooked me. I've got to get this book and read more! It sounds like a great read!

  5. Hannah - The cats definitely have a presence in the novel, more so in this one than the first book in the series. One of the things I've enjoyed in the author's books is that her cats are always actual cats in the novels. They aren't the ones who solve the actual mysteries. Of course, in this one, there's a paranormal aspect and so Mr. Grey actually does speak--but just a little. I think even non-cat people could enjoy this particular book without too much trouble as a result.

    Melody - I am too, Melody. I love bookish characters. It's hard not to feel at home with them. :-)

    Molly - It is a great combination! I am not sure I'd go so far as to call the setting Gothic as I think it's still got that cozy mystery feel to it. It has hints of that Gothic feel though underneath the surface, which is quite fitting given Dulcie's taste in literature.

    Jay - I hope you will get a chance to read Grey Matters and enjoy it as much as I did.

  6. I'm trying to read more gothic stories and this sounds like a good place to start. Thanks for the review, Wendy!

  7. Thanks so much for the review, Wendy! Just wanted to butt in here and tell folks that if they want to read a little more before committing, I have an excerpt up at my site: http://www.cleasimon.com

    Please let me know what you think!

    PS - now hard at work on Dulcie #3!

  8. A murder mystery that includes books and animals sound almost perfect to me.

  9. I'm on my way to search out the first book in this series. Then I'll move on to this one. It sounds like something I would really enjoy. Thanks, Wendy!

  10. Sounds like an entertaining series! I'll be looking for both of these!

  11. This sounds like a series I would enjoy. Hey - did I tell you that we have become a cat family? A gorgeous tuxedo cat named Sam took over our lives a couple weeks ago, and we couldn't be happier. My kids are in absolute heaven, since I'd always said no pets. I find that I like being a cat person - who knew?

  12. Wendy, like you, I'm a huge fan of Clea's books, and Grey Matters was no exception. I loved everything about this book, but I was especially delighted by the way Clea masterfully weaves the cats into the book and makes them an integral part of the story and the mystery. I cant' wait for Dulcie #3!

  13. As you know, Wendy, I don't read a lot of genre fiction, but every time you review one of Clea Simon's books, I think I need to step out of my box and try them out for myself! Thanks for the excellent review - and I can see why you connect with Dulcie.

  14. Did you say mystery, gothic, cats and bookish character? Say no more :P

  15. Sounds like fun :-) I've never read any of Clea Simon's books but it sounds like a good time :-)

  16. Clea - Thank you for the opportunity to review your book! I look forward to reading the third book in the series. :-)

  17. Alice - I think you'd really like this one, Alice. :-)

    Kathy - I agree! A book that combines mystery, animals and books is a must read for me.

    Kay - I hope you will enjoy the series if you give it a try, Kay. It's definitely worth reading, in my opinion.

    Jenclair - I'm enjoying it so far. I was a little leery of cat related mysteries, but Clea Simon's approach has made me more willing to give them a try.

    Carrie - Welcome Sam to Carrie's family! I'm so happy for you. :-) Sam sounds beautiful. I never would have thought I'd become a cat person either before I took in Parker. Isn't it funny how that works out?

  18. Ingrid - I love how Clea weaves the cats into the book as well. It's so natural and not at all overbearing.

    Florinda - Clea Simon spends quite a bit of time on character, which I appreciate.

    I really like Dulcie, but sometimes she's a little too much like me. LOL

    Nymeth - It's a heavenly combination. :-)

    Marie - I've enjoyed the books I've read by her so far. I really need to read her nonfiction book about cats. I've read little bits of it here and there, but I want to sit down and read it from cover to cover.

    Terri - Except for the tobacco smoke, it sounds like my kind of place! And I'd probably want my computer so I could blog. ;-)


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