Shell Game: A Black Cat Novel – A.B. Funkhauser
Shell Game is an intelligent and entertaining novel that is packed with witty humour while delivering a thought-provoking insight into communities and neighbours. Carlos the Wonder Cat is the muse in the story and his journey takes us from his early feral days and life in an animal shelter, to playing cat and mouse with animal control officers (sorry for the pun), crossing paths with an animal fetish group, to wandering into the lives of the Saffron Drive community in Pictontown.
The town and country are fictional, with a range of nationalities, particularly Indian, Irish and Hungarian, that suggests this community could represent any region in the world. Next door neighbours, Poonam Khanzada Rajput and Bronagh Caley, are the two main protagonists of the story. Their relationship, never on a sure footing, is developed with wonderful complexity and enthralling to watch. The clever characterisations of Poonam and Bronagh allow us to experience a range of issues from pleasant co-existence to mischievous jealousies, and interests that demonstrate opposing active political beliefs. I loved the line “She woke, washed, fed and then minded her neighbours business.” which typifies someone we all recognise in every neighbourhood.
There are many incidents throughout the novel that are fascinating to observe and are seasoned with witty humour. Bronagh has been served notice from the City Planning Department in relation to the renovation of her garage that has apparently violated several City ordinances. She knows she has been ratted out and she’s pretty sure she knows by whom. Poonam Rajput is recently widowed, and her mother, Mummy Ji, is now living with her, offering that unwelcome sage advice. Poonam is also infatuated with another neighbour, Zoltan Kárpáty and she is determined to get to know him better. When Bronagh eventually confronts Poonam we see the hidden resentments surface when she asks bluntly:
“Why did you call City Works on us, Poonam? Why? We never did anything to you.”
Poonam smiled, taking two steps back and away. “That’s just the thing, you see. You have never done anything for me.”
There is a twist of humour in many of the neighbour interactions and how their relationships develop are keenly drawn.
The writing is extremely imaginative and the observations are wonderfully illustrated across the various characters. This book is about the interactions of neighbours, their prejudices, resentments, egos, their concealed motives and the shells they build up around themselves.
I would rate this book 4.5 stars and highly recommend reading it. I’d also like to thank A.B. Funkhauser for providing me with a version of his book in return for an honest review.