It’s been a busy week on the blog but my final guest this week is Nik Morton, author of many fine books including The Avenging Cat series. Here he talks about what inspired it and shares a generous excerpt. Happy reading folks!
Genesis of the Cat
When I conceived the ‘Avenging Cat’ series, I wanted it to be fast-paced, travelling to many foreign places, laced with humour, injected with suspense, and containing some interesting larger-than-life characters, both good and bad. And as the majority of readers are female, I thought the main character should be a resourceful but flawed young woman. All within about 50,000 words per self-contained adventure.
Catherine Vibrissae emerged fully formed, a trained chemist who turns to modelling on the catwalk to earn enough money to pursue her vendetta against Loup Malefice, the founder and owner of Cerberus, a global corporation.
Why does she hate Malefice? Because that man was responsible for taking over her father’s company, shortly before her father was in a fatal car crash; she was left almost penniless. Born on 12 August, 1985, Cat studied chemistry at Oxford 2006-2010, graduating roughly a year after her father was killed. I felt it was essential to create a back story about her parents, even though they’re both dead by the time the first book, Catalyst, starts.
Cat has studied taekwondo, is an accomplished free climber and parachutist, and had used her father’s hand-gun on a firing range. As a model she travelled widely to various fashion shoots and shows – Italy, China, France and Morocco, where she often established contacts that would prove useful later.
It is not advisable to only have a single main protagonist: there is little dialogue and an over-reliance on thought processes. Early on, then, she meets Rick Barnes, who also has a good reason to dislike Malefice, and, after some initial tantalising verbal jousting, they join forces, and he becomes her sounding-board. Rick little realised what he was getting into. While he is fit, his lifestyle is staid, that of a company lawyer, when compared to Cat’s: a perfect foil for her.
Excerpt from Catacomb, (second in the series and just published):
Cat tugged on a pair of latex gloves and then padded across the thick pile carpet, the sensation quite pleasurable for her bare slightly damp feet. She lowered to one knee and swung open a cupboard door. Inside she recognised the type of safe, with its distinctive handle and combination wheel. “Found it,” she said into her phone.
“Glad it’s still there!”
“Me, too. I’ll be in touch.” She closed the call. Now, for the first time, she would test her safe-cracking skill in earnest. Compared to her other pursuits, this had taken what seemed like an inordinate time to master. At least Chuck was a patient instructor, and his training had been intensive.
Her previous encounters with Cerberus had convinced her that if she was serious about continuing her vendetta, she needed to learn safe-cracking. Five months ago, Rick had said rather sheepishly, “I might know the man who can help you.” Chuck Marston was one of the useful contacts in Rick’s little green book. “My father says Chuck has proven useful from time to time. He’s an American, a retired jewel thief.”
“Can we afford to pay him?” she’d asked.
“He’s retired – on his ill-gotten gains, I imagine. He doesn’t need money.”
“Will he help me?”
“Let’s try him and see.”
“Sure, your proposition sounds intriguing, son,” Chuck replied over the phone. “Let’s do dinner. You pay.” He named a medium priced restaurant off the beaten track, and they met outside.
Chuck was five-foot nothing, thin and wiry with a pot belly. He was in his early sixties, she reckoned, and he was balding, with tufts of unruly grey hair over his ears. White hair sprouted from his ears and nostrils. He had long drawn features, with drooping eyebrows and a lined forehead. His hazel eyes flashed mischievously as he spoke; she liked him immediately.
As she shook his hand she felt his skin was dry, leathery. “Never mind these hands, honey,” he said, speaking round an unlit cigar. “They’ve got like that due to fondling over a thousand metal mistresses.” The pads at his fingertips seemed unusually smooth. “I managed to unlock the mystery of every one of them.” He winked. “If you pay attention, you can do the same.”
“Then I will pay attention, Mr Marston,” she responded.
He chuckled. “Good. I like your no-nonsense attitude, Cathy. We’ll get along fine. Oh, and call me Chuck. That’s the drill.”
“Was that a joke, Chuck?”
“No, honey, I don’t joke about my name. I have a reputation, you know. Fortunately, it’s all based on scores that have passed the statute of limitations.” He winked again.
He shoved the cigar in his top pocket, led the way into the restaurant. The maître d’ clearly knew him and showed all three of them to a secluded table. A bottle of champagne was chilling in its bucket on a stand.
The sommelier charged their flutes and then they were left alone to decide on their order.
Chuck opened the menu, leaned back in his chair. “The deal’s off, by the way.”
Cat eyed him. “We haven’t arrived at a deal yet.”
He grinned at both of them. “I like the pair of you. The meal’s on me.”
“That’s generous of you,” Rick said, “but—”
“No, Rick,” Cat interrupted, “let Chuck pay. If we’re going to learn from him, we need to do as he says.”
Chuck chortled. “Hot damn, you’re on the ball, Cathy. That’s precisely it!”
“As I said, Chuck, I pay attention.” She opened her menu.
After she opened the safe, she whistled softly. On the shelf were several thick bundles of pristine fifty-euro notes amounting to €500,000. At the back, behind the money, was a black velvet bag. She opened it, poured into her palm a diamond necklace and an exquisite gold filigree brooch with a diamond at its centre. It was tempting to take some of this loot, if not all, but she didn’t want anyone to know that the safe’s contents had been compromised. On the floor of the safe were five folders. Fortunately, Petra Grimalkin was Malefice’s bag-lady as well as one of his heads of division, so carried important documents when accompanying her boss; that fact had prompted this latest break-in. Cat grabbed all of the folders and stood at the bar, checking the titles.
Rick had mentioned Tangier; she wondered if he’d heard of Cerberus operations in these other places. She shrugged; no matter. A quick flick through them revealed that every folder contained a half-dozen sheets; they might prove useful in her ongoing war of attrition against Loup Malefice and his organisation.
Cat diligently photographed each document from the folders, then replaced them as she’d found them. She shut the safe door, twirled the combination wheel. Petra Grimalkin wouldn’t be aware that anyone had tampered with the contents of her safe.
“I’ve got the full details,” she informed Rick.
“Good. Now, please get out.” She loved him for that, the measure of concern in his tone. Not strident, but firm.
She returned to her shoes on the polythene sheet. They were still wet, understandably, and a small puddle surrounded them. She dabbed the towel in the puddle, absorbing most of the rainwater, glanced around and spotted the ice bucket and bundled the towel in there, then carried it to the bathroom. She’d squeeze the surplus water into the bidet..
She passed the two suitcases at the bedroom doorway, glanced in.
The bedding was in disarray. She stopped, puzzled. Perfume bottles lay scattered over the top of the dressing table, a few of them broken. The smell was pungent, even from here.
Maybe Petra and Zabala had argued.
She stepped into the bathroom and instantly dropped the ice bucket. Luckily, it missed her toes by inches; it emitted a ringing sound as it rolled over the tiles.
Cat gagged, felt the bile rising, kicked aside the wet towel and the ice bucket and rushed to the bidet on her right. She was just in time. Her lunch erupted, her stomach suddenly cramping. She ran the tap, careful not to send the water-stream full force, and washed away her weakness. She clutched the porcelain rim; her heart pounded against her chest as she leaned over. Gradually, she sensed her pulse slow and turned off the water. The strong perfume smell throughout the apartment couldn’t alleviate the powerful stench of vomit in her nostrils.
Snagging a toilet roll from the rack next to the bidet, she tore off sections and wiped her mouth and nose and then discarded it in the WC bowl, and flushed it away.
She got to her feet, stood on wobbly legs.
Trembling, she stared, her heart fluttering. She’d never seen anything like this. Ever. She fumbled at the phone. Selected Rick, punched dial.
“Are you out yet?” Rick asked.
She shook her head, tears blurring her vision. “Did you see them both leave?” she demanded, her throat raw, dry, her voice croaking.
“What, Zabala and Petra?”
“What’s the matter, Cathy?”
“Well, did you?”
“No, I’m going on what I overheard in the lobby… Why, what’s wrong?”
“Petra never went to the art show.” Cat stared at Petra Grimalkin, her naked body eviscerated, lying in the open shower cubicle. A small trickle of blood dribbled off her soaked corpse and snaked towards the plughole. “She’s dead – murdered.”
Catacomb, published by Crooked Cat.
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