I read my fair share of mystery books, but I do not do it for the joy of matching wits with the detective, or with the author, or for the joy of figuring out who did it. I never figure out who did it. I reread mystery books a few short years after my first read, and I still don't know who did it. I could say that I am too avid a reader, too interested in the plot and characters to sit around puzzling out the clues and the patterns and the red herrings, but really I suspect that I am not particularly good at that sort of puzzle solving.
So you might imagine my delight when I solved a chain of real life crimes by a serial murderer.
Oh, ho, you think I'm kidding?
No one knew they were murders, but people were dying left and right.
Someone wrote a book about it, but they missed the crimes completely, and
so did everyone who read and commented on the book. They were all looking elsewhere. The book was about
something else entirely, not crime related. I looked over the book and solved a mystery that was sitting in
plain sight, snuggled deviously into the very conceit of the book, disguised as innocence. I spotted a crime wave. I used my
little gray cells. I figured it out. I solved a string of murders! It was a delicious, heady feeling.
I don't know if I can stop this horrible chain of killings, but of course
I have every hope I will. I expect that this post will serve to alert
the authorities and these ghastly murders will come to an end.
But this isn't how you're supposed to tell mystery stories. I am giving
the game away before I start. And now, when I tell you the set up, you
will be all primed and able to figure it out for yourself. You will be less
impressed with my sudden burst of sleuthing genius. And so I understand now why Poirot and Holmes and Nero Wolfe
all hold so much back.
But this is real life, and a real story, and so you will have
to be impressed or not as you see fit.
But maybe, before we start, you can pretend a little that you didn't just read all of that.
A book came through the delivery, and, as is my habit, I read up all the
words on the covers and inside flaps. The book was called Making the
Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David
Dosa. What I learned from the cover, and from later research on the
Internet, is that people mostly like this book. It is supposedly a heartwarming and interesting story. And it has a very interesting cat. Everyone likes cats.
The story is that there is Nursing Home where this cat Oscar lives. Oscar is an aloof cat. David Dosa is a geriatrician who does not much like cats. But he hears about this cat who hangs around dying patients and comforts them, and so he watches this cat and decides there's something to it. Oscar apparently has an uncanny ability to predict when a patient's time is nearing. He snuggles with the patient until the patient passes. He refuses to leave the dying patient's room. His presence reassures and comforts the grieving and frightened family. Etc. etc.
I like cats a lot. I am all ready to be taken in by this heartwarming and interesting story. But when I read about it some latent detective aspect was awoken in me instead. Something was off. I started thinking, using my little gray cells, as Poirot puts it. I came up with this:
1. Oscar is always, then, in the room with the patient when they die.
2. We only know they are dying patients in hindsight, because when Oscar goes to them, and starts hanging out with them, they die.
3. If Oscar is so "Aloof", what's going on with all this snuggling of people who soon die with him in their beds?
Or perhaps we should look at it from another angle, perhaps an angle featured plentifully in mystery fiction. Let's say there is a healthy young woman who marries old men. Immediately after marrying them they sicken and die. Do we marvel at this woman and say she has an enormous heart, she senses the imminent death of these, perhaps wealthy, old men and marries them to ease their passing? Do we suggest that she has a second sense for the nearing footsteps of death? No. We suspect her of murder. We look carefully at the situation. We don't let ourselves get distracted by fanciful, magical explanations. We ask, who had access to these people when they died. Who had an alibi? Has anything like this happened in this person's past before?
And so it is with Oscar the cat. He alone has the opportunity. And while old people are perhaps more prone to die than the young, we are talking about dozens of people, alone and vulnerable, dying with this cat. Indeed, it is every single person this aloof cat "befriends". The cat watches the dying, but who is watching the cat?
I will admit I do not have the case sewn up, but there is a precedence for this in the detective fiction. We have the victims, we have the killer, it can be no one else. We only lack the motive.
Why is Oscar the cat killing all these old people?
To bring this case to a proper conclusion I would need to be called in on the scene like a proper detective. But I do think we can get close enough even at this distance.
We are only missing motive and method. As to motive, I think we are not in the realm of the usual human motives like greed and anger, and psychopathology. This is a cat. And much as I adore all cats I have noticed that they have a real taste for recreational killing. Murder. I think Oscar may just be a perverse and clever master of this. Whether this is "wrong" is perhaps for others to say. The victims are old and weak and ill. And no one seems put out by these deaths. Indeed a whole book has been written here to speak well of these deaths.
But when we speak of method, when you think of it, think of a person struggling feebly and succumbing, your view of it may be altered. We cannot forget to consider the victims.
Clearly the method cannot be by claw or tooth. Cuts or bleeding would have been noticed, but if I were on the scene I would first verify the lack of mysterious wounds. Based on the silent deaths and the habits of cats I believe the method used is suffocation. The elderly victims are being smothered. Oscar presses down over their mouths and noses and our old, feeble victims are at first confused, then too weak to pry the small, but tough and able cat off of their faces. This method has the effect of causing the whole murder to be silent as the victims are unable to cry out.
In a proper case there would be a dramatic denouement where I would reveal this all with a more appropriate impressiveness. But as I stated this is reality, with real senior citizen victims. I was not called in as a consulting detective and have not been able to test all my hypothesis. Nevertheless our facts are clear and our conjectures, though they may differ slightly from the actuality of events, could only stray so far. Oscar the cat has the deadly, hunter cat inclinations which, as anyone who has received a "gift" from a cat knows, would easily suffice for motive. Oscar alone had the opportunity in death after death. Oscar alone explains an unusual series of deaths as well. And Oscar, the geriatric killing, fluffy, suffocating cat, had the means.
I think that if this case isn't exactly "closed", it is fair to say it is solved. Oscar the cat, j'accuse.