I originally reviewed Red Cat by Peter Spiegelman on February 12th, 2007.
John March is the black sheep of a powerful banking family. One of his brothers comes to him seeking his help. He had an affair with a woman who is now making trouble for him, stalking him and is threatening to out the affair. He wants John to find out who she is and make her stop. His brother only knows her by her screen name, Wren. As John delves deeper into Wrens life he uncovers an entire world of noir pornography that is strangely compelling and horrifying sometimes both at the same time. When a body turns up in the river that may be Wrens suddenly the entire case is flipped upside down as now John is trying to find the killer to protect his brother.
One of the things that I like the most about March is that he is a thoroughly updated version of the PI. He’s more likely to use the internet, Google and public records searches then asking around town and occasionally roughing people up for information. As an ex-cop he’s more likely to work on the fringes of the law then be firmly entrenched outside of it like his more traditional “lone-wolf” counter parts. In fact he spends a goodly portion of the book trying to get his brother seek the aid of an attorney and to turn himself into the police. He also eschews some of the other typical PI traits. He is not a tough guy; in fact he gets beat up quite a few times throughout the book. He is not an alcoholic, in name or practice. He actually is quite healthy and an avid runner.
Interestingly Spiegleman takes what can only described as a morally ambiguous stance on marital infidelity. Simply put, its OK for March, a widower, to have a relationship with a married woman, Claire, but it’s not Ok for his brother, who is married, to have a sexual relationship with someone other then his wife. There seems to be an alarming justification for some forms of infidelity but not others.
None of this would be an issue if the 6 relationship characters that were central to the infidelity sub-plot were presented in a manner which afforded them an opportunity to act as tools for Spiegelman to dissect the complex issue of marital infidelity, or at least present it’s many faces. But in terms of their relationships to one another they are painted with an almost garish simplicity so that they become only walking extremes and the whole idea of infidelity, which is central to the story, becomes muddled.
There is a simplicity with which they are portrayed that makes it hard to get a handle on the characters. In terms of the infidelity they are in the same boat, committing the same act with varying degrees of success. But because of the way that they are presented to us throughout the telling some are judged yet some are absolved and others are just non-existent
To illustrate the simple extremes that some of these characters are painted I couldn’t help but notice that March and Claire are presented in a far more positive light because they are fostering a relationship but the other characters in the book who are also having an affair have the perception of being sexually deviant. March’s brother, who is having an affair, is presented in such a way as to make him completely unlikable, even as his world starts crashing around him. Yet the most likeable character in the story is Claire, who is sweet and interesting, So we are set up from the start to view this as a black/white issue when it is actually a far more complex issue. If you’re going to bring it up then you may as well explore it fully.
There are two main female characters that are a part of this story, Claire and Wren. They are, I think, two sides of the same coin. According to all of the publication material Wren is cast as the “interesting” character. She is the one that we are supposed to be intrigued by and want to know more about. But I couldn’t help but notice in my own reading experience that I was far more interested in Claire and wanted to know more about her.
I must say though that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and now crave to know more about the other John March books. The best recommendation that I can give is to say that upon completion of Red Cat I went out and picked up a copy of Black Maps, the first March book and look forward to reading it.