Book Talk: ‘Katwalk,’ the one I overlooked
During the 1990’s, one of my favorite “fun” authors (in the sense of Max Shulman a few decades earlier or Janet Evanovich now) was Karen Kijewski, who wrote a series of books centered on a bartender turned P.I. named Kat Colorado. I read all of her books (“Katapult,” 1990; “Copy Kat,” 1990; “Kat’s Cradle,” 1992; “Wild Kat,” 1994; “Alley Kat Blues,” 1995; “Honkey Tonk Kat,” 1996; “Kat Scratch Fever,” 1997; and “Stray Kat Waltz,” 1998). However, I missed her first novel, “Katwalk,” 1989, 232 pages in paperback.
I recently corrected that oversight by obtaining a copy and enjoying every page. In “Katwalk,” Kijewski (apparently a name of Scandinavian or East European origin, pronounced kee-Yef-skee) introduces the reader to Kat Colorado, a private eye who knows better than to work cases for friends. But she reluctantly makes an exception for Charity, a nationally-syndicated advice columnist who is on the verge of divorce and suspects that her husband, Sam, is hiding a ton of money, which he claims to have lost at the tables in Las Vegas. Charity wants Kat to find the money so that it can be included in the “community property” which will be divided during divorce proceedings.
Each chapter opens with a letter to Charity, and Charity’s response. For example, “Wondering” wrote, “Dear Charity, Is it proper for me to call a boy? My mom says girls never call boys, and ladies never call gentlemen.” Charity answers: “Dear Wondering, Girls do what their mothers tell them. Ladies do what society tells them. Women make up their own minds.”
Kat falls into the latter category. Yet, against her better judgment, Kat travels from her home in Sacramento to Las Vegas to track down Sam’s loot. She quickly determines that the money was not lost on gambling tables but was, rather, invested in a huge real estate development scam. However, Sam’s $200,000 is small potatoes in a multimillion-dollar deal, which seems to be a money-laundering scheme that has been put together by “the mob.”
However, when Sam attempts to get his investment returned, he “accidentally” falls to his death from the sixth floor of a construction project. Kat suspects that Sam’s death is not accidental, and her investigation brings her into contact with Deck, a Las Vegas heavy who was one of Kat’s friends in high school. His somewhat candid/somewhat enigmatic remarks should warn Kat to drop the case. And her new love interest, Hank, a Las Vegas cop, agrees. But Kat follows her friend Charity’s counsel and makes up her own mind. That decision could get her killed.
Kijewski, who got her B.A. and M.A. degrees from UC, Berkeley, where her father taught geology, taught school in Massachusetts for a decade before returning to Sacramento to tend bar while she wrote her novels. “Katwalk” won both the Anthony Award and the Shamus Award for “Best First Novel” for 1990.
“Stray Kat Waltz” was her last novel. I don’t know why she stopped writing, but it may have been to raise her two daughters. Her novels were not the type that required the reader to remember the details of a complicated plot. Like Janet Evanovich’s works, they should be read just for fun.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.