Kaitlyn Dunnett (that would be me), isn’t the only mystery writer to include a Maine Coon cat in the cast of characters of an amateur detective series, but I may be the only Maine mystery writer taking my inspiration straight from the cats in my daily life. Meet Nefret, aka Lumpkin, the Maine Coon cat in the Liss MacCrimmon series.
Nefret weighs in at seventeen pounds, which is about average for a Maine Coon cat. They run extra-large. He was not always this big, of course. When we first found him, with his littermate, under the floor of our garage, he was only a few weeks old and cute as a button. That was ten years ago. He’s grown some. Nefret’s fictional alter ego, Lumpkin, is yellow, while Nefret is what I call buff-color. Lumpkin has a slightly more abrasive personality. He bites ankles. Nefret only bites wrists, and then only if I get too enthusiastic about combing the tangles out of his fur. All his little idiosyncrasies are fodder for the novels. This year, he’ll achieve a special kind of fame because he’s pictured on the cover of the October book, Scotched.
Maine Coon cats are special, unique in both their size and their affectionate natures, and the best of them, in my opinion, are strays and shelter kitties. Nefret and his sister Bala are the latest in a series of Maine Coon cats to share our home. The first was Jeremiah, a black and white kitten who adopted us in a laundromat in Lewiston, Maine about three weeks into our marriage, a scene that later inspired the arrival of a black kitten in A Wee Christmas Homicide. We had to hide her when the landlord came to collect the rent because no pets were allowed in our apartment building. Later, there was Lavinia, who was almost pure white except for a striped spot on the top of her head. We got her at the local animal shelter. And now we have Nefret and Bala.
You may have noticed that we don’t give our cats ordinary names. Or names that reflect the correct gender. What can I say? We named our one and only dog Notacat. To be honest, though, Nefret was named by mistake. We had named his littermate Bala, a name I had previously assigned to a cat in a short story I wrote about a Persian cat. Since they had long fur in common and since Bala means nuisance, it seemed to fit. My husband then suggested naming the other kitten after the cat in the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. He meant Bastet (de cat), but the name that popped into my mind first was Nefret, Amelia and Emerson’s adopted daughter. Yes, that Nefret is a girl and Nefret the cat is a boy, but the name means beautiful and it just seemed to fit. The name for the fictional Lumpkin came from the books of another favorite mystery author, the late, great Charlotte MacLeod of Durham, Maine. The Lumpkins are a family and appear in her Peter Shandy series.
Living with Maine Coon cats can be inspiring. And they definitely have personality. Nefret likes to wake me up at dawn by putting his face right next to mine on the pillow and tapping me on the nose with one paw, claws optional. He also likes to chew on things, everything from shoes to purse straps to the five-pound ankle-weights I use for workouts. One morning I reached under the bed to pull out the rolling suitcase I use to carry copies of some of my out-of-print titles to book signings, only to discover that he had completely gnawed through the leather handle! Still, he’s a sweet boy, and nothing soothes after a hard day at the computer like a lap full of purring cat.
Lest you think I’ve forgotten that this blog has a mystery theme, the Maine Coon cat is a mystery. No one really knows how the breed originated. One popular, if unlikely, theory has a Persian cat mating with a raccoon. On the other hand, if you’ve ever seen the back end of a Maine Coon cat waddling away from you, you have to wonder . . .
And, as it happens, there is another interesting angle to this legend. The Persian cat in question is said to have belonged to Marie Antoinette. I can see you looking puzzled. Marie Antoinette . . . in Maine? Yes, indeed. And Lea Wait will be telling that story in her blog this coming Monday. Stay tuned.