"Keep this book away from cats. They might be planning a murder"
("Cat Food - Great Detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari and the Murders of the House with Many Orders")
When I was in Kyoto last year, I lived in a dormitory for international students. I think I've seen my neighbour only once, and that was not in before our rooms, but in a class we happened to take together. After a bit of talking, we suddenly discovered we had lived next to each other for over half a year without ever meeting once. As I lived at the end of the corridor, I had only one neighbour inside the dorm, but I also had three stray cats living somewhere near my room whom I saw/heard quite often. Actually, I probably saw those cats more often than other people in my dorm. They were quite popular too, with children always creeping into the bushes to play with them (which was a bit creepy actually; those kids always popped up from a little shrine in front of the bushes... almost as ghosts). Anyway, those cats were good neighbours. Of course, they might also have been evil cats keeping an eye on me.
I loved Morikawa Tomoki's Snow White, and with his third novel out this week, I had to sneak in his debut work with the overly long title Cat Food - Meitantei Sanzunokawa Kotowari to Chuumon no Ooi Yakata no Satsujin ("Cat Food - Great Detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari and the Murders of the House with Many Orders"). Four high school students have won a free stay on a resort island. What they don't know, is that the whole island is a trap set up by... cats. Evil cats. Evil cats who try to take over the world. The world of processed cat food that is. For these cats have come up with a new product for the nouveau riche of the cat-world: cat food made out of human flesh. The four students are the ingredients needed for the first test run of the factory. Of course, this wouldn't be possible for normal cats, but the brains behind the Pluto Meat Company are a group of transforming cats, who can change at will into about everything (humans amongst others). One problem though: Willy, another transforming cat has taken the place of one of their ingredient-humans, but they don't know which of the four is Willy. While cats are allowed to kill humans, they can't just kill other cats (that would be illegal) and thus starts a clash of deductions, with the cats of PMC are trying to figure out which of their ingredients is Willy, who is desperately trying to save everybody without blowing his cover.
Snow White featured a battle of the wits based on a fantasy setting (magic mirrors) and it worked out great there, and the same can be said of Cat Food (I am not going to use the full title). Transforming cats might sound a bit unfair, but there are clear rules (the cats can only change to objects / persons of a certain size, they have to obey the 'cat-laws', the human ingredients have to be processed into food, so they can't just blow up everyone and the island...), so in the end, Cat Food works out as as you would expect from any good deduction battle story. The first part of the story is centered around Willy trying to figure out a way to get everybody of the island safe, while the cats are spying on the humans in the hopes of discovering who Willy changed into. In the second part of Cat Food, Pluto, the leader of the evil cats, asks for the help of her owner, the unscrupulous, yet brilliant great detective Sanzunokawa Kotowari. He agrees in helping finding out which of the humans is Willy (and thus agrees in helping the cats making cat food out of the other humans).
The story consists of several confrontations between Willy and the other cats and Sanzunokawa, with each time one side trying to outsmart the other. The point of view constantly jumps between these two sides and while the reader is shown some of the thoughts/plans of either side, you never really know is going on until the confrontation is over and that is, similiar to Snow White, the best point of the story. You just never know who is going to win each confrontation and the great tempo with which these battles follow each other keeps the reader hooked to the pages.
It's also a fun novel. The whole idea of evil, transforming cats is alluring (and probably not very far from reality...), but the narrative is also always written in a light, humorous tone that works wonderful with the fantasy setting. Considering the basic premise, this could also easily have been written as a horror-mystery novel (the whole humans being made into cat food premise offers enough material for that)... but it's just funnier to read about cute evil cats planning our demise, rather than actually evil and scary cats planning our demise.
Cat Food is a really short novel though, even shorter than Snow White I think. It's great fun while it lasts, but that's not very long and considering Cat Food is released under the prizey Kodansha Box imprint (softcover novels with a sturdy silver cardboard box), I can't really recommend the reader buying this new / for the set price. The same holds for Snow White, but that one actually has a neat thing going on with the box design, while Cat Food's box is... just a grey box (Van Madoy's novels are also published under this imprint, but are much longer).
The setting of Cat Food - Meitantei Sanzunokawa Kotowari to Chuumon no Ooi Yakata no Satsujin alone makes it worth reading. It's lighthearted fun mystery, but it does leave you wanting for more. Both because it's just plain addicting, but also because it's a bit lacking in volume.
Original Japanese title(s): 『キャットフード 名探偵三途川理と注文の多い館の殺人』