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Patrick Roberts

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Feline Folios 8

A look at some more of the books we've enjoyed
[ browse all reviewed titles from the Folios index page ]


Red Lead: The Naval Cat with Nine Lives, by Roland Perry

Red Lead: The Naval Cat with Nine Lives
Roland Perry
(Allen & Unwin, 2020;
ISBN 978 1 76029 714 5

For a time I didn't know what to make of this book by the Australian author, as surely, I thought, the little cat Red Lead had gone down with her ship, HMAS Perth, sunk by the Japanese in 1942. Now, almost 80 years later, comes a book purporting to recount her survival, and her adventurous life thereafter, in great detail. She is said to have been looked after by Australian survivors of the sinking who were taken prisoner by the Japanese, to have survived various prison camps, and to have managed to survive the brutal conditions of the building of the Burma railway, before finally finding a home in Thailand after the war. That just happened to conveniently be the place where she was originally born.

At no point does Mr Perry actually claim his story is true — it's described as a 'dramatic narrative' — but that's the impression we're given. While it's quite entertaining, I have to come to the conclusion that it's fiction, is misleading, and that as far as I can tell from other sources Red Lead did indeed perish with the ship. I don't see how Mr Perry could possibly have come up with all this detail so long after the events.

Since writing the above we have seen a scathing review at the Australian Naval Institute, rejecting the whole premise of the story (i.e. that Red Lead survived the sinking), and refuting or taking issue with many of the 'facts' and references. Even the cover photograph is an invention. The cat shown isn't Red Lead (no known photographs exist) but the mascot of the British heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall taken aboard the ship some years before the war, in 1933. This is acknowledged by Perry in a corner of the back cover, but what isn't stated is that the image has been doctored to fit the narrative — the original photo of Cornwall's cat shows it was a black-and-white 'tuxedo'.

Visit our page for Cats in Wartime — Cats at Sea where many feline mascots are listed, including Red Lead in the entry for HMAS Perth.

Nala's World
Dean Nicholson
(Hodder & Stoughton, 2020;
ISBN 978 1 529 32798 4

This lovely, well-written book, with plenty of colour photos, relates how Dean, a Scotsman setting out to travel round the world on his bicycle, came across a young kitten, apparently abandoned, in the mountains of Bosnia. Not prepared to leave her to her fate, he took her 'on board' — and so began a remarkable relationship.

The pair travelled through Montenegro, Albania and on into Greece, while Dean nursed the youngster, now named Nala, back to full health and watched her grow, dealing along the way with the necessary injections and paperwork needed to cross frontiers. They spent some weeks on the island of Santorini, where Dean topped up his finances working with a kayaking company and Nala was spayed. Then it was back on the road to Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan — plans to fly to India were eventually abandoned as impractical, so a new goal was set of crossing Russia. With that in mind the pair set off through Bulgaria, Serbia and into Hungary — where the coronavirus pandemic intervened. Dean had left Nala with a friend in Budapest while he made a necessary quick trip back to Britain — and only just made it back in time before the borders were closed.

The book ends there, but further adventures can be followed on Instagram, where they have many thousands of followers, and there's an active Facebook page. There's much more to the book than I can relate here, and I can only recommend very highly thIs account of the adventures of Dean and his cat and the strong bond and friendship between them.

Nala's World, by Dean Nicholson
The Outlaw Varjak Paw, by SF Said

The Outlaw Varjak Paw
S.F. Said, with illustrations by Dave McKean
(Corgi Books, 2005;
ISBN 978 0 552 55156 4

This is the sequel to Varjak Paw (see Folios 1), and I don't know why it took me so long to catch up with it! It may be primarily a children's book, but it's a rollicking good adventure story, fast-paced and inventive — a book one could easily read at a sitting. It tells of Varjak Paw's adventures after he goes to live in the city and is declared an outlaw by the evil and dominant Sally Bones and her gang; he collects his own small band of followers and, after many changes of fortune, there is a final showdown with her. I'll leave you to discover the outcome!

Homer: The Ninth Life of a Blind Wonder Cat
Gwen Cooper
(2015; not sure if this is self-published or print-on-demand, but there was no publisher or ISBN shown)

This is a sequel to the widely acclaimed Homer's Odyssey (see Folios 4), about the life and adventures of a blind kitten in New York. Just a slim book, it's eminently readable, amusing in parts, heart-warming — and it deals honestly and tenderly with Homer's eventual passing from liver failure after sixteen years — much longer than he was expected to live. It's hard to keep a dry eye in that part. Gwen Cooper writes extremely well and I can't recommend this little book highly enough to cat lovers, or indeed anyone who lives with animals and/or enjoys their company.

Homer - The Ninth Life of a lind Wonder Cat, by Gwen Cooper
Mosby, the Kennedy Center Cat, by Beppy Noyes

Mosby, the Kennedy Center Cat
Beppy Noyes, writer and illustrator
(VSP Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1978;
ISBN 0 9637688 8 3

When the Kennedy Center was being built in the 1970s, a mother cat and her kittens were living there, but moved out as construction progressed — all except one grey kitten, who somehow missed leaving with the rest of the family. He took refuge in an unfinished theatre high up in the building and used the secret network of air ducts to move around. When it was realised he was there, efforts were made to catch him, but he evaded them all; a couple of the employees took pity on him and kept him fed, eventually winning his trust to some extent. That is all true. But there came a day when he simply disappeared, and no one knows what became of him. Ms Noyes writes a happy fictional ending to the book — but it's a remarkable story and well worth a read. The cat was named after Colonel John Mosby, a civil-war officer who was well known for evading capture.

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor
Jan Louch with Lisa Rogak
(Thomas Dunne Books / St Martin's Press, New York, 2015;
ISBN 978 1 250 08107 0

It's a quarter of a century or more since the heyday of Baker and Taylor — the cats, that is, not the publishers — but this book is no less welcome for that. For the first time it tells the full story of how two handsome Scottish Fold cats came to live in a small-town library in Nevada, USA, and how they became much loved not just by the community, but by people all over America and beyond. They were every bit as famous as Dewey, the Iowa library cat, or Socks Clinton would later become; their posters were to be found in thousands of libraries and fans came to visit them from far and wide. This is a fascinating book that, as well as telling the cats' story, gives an insight into life in a small American town in the 1980s.

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor, by Jan Louch with Lisa Rogak
Doorkins the Cathedral Cat, by Lisa Gutwein (illustrations Rowan Ambrose)

Doorkins the Cathedral Cat
Lisa Gutwein, with illustrations by Rowan Ambrose
(Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London & Philadelphia, 2017;
ISBN 978 1 78592 357 9

This lovely little book tells the story of Doorkins Magnificat, the tabby cat who made her way to London's Southwark Cathedral in 2008 and never left. It gives a fictionalised account of her life at the cathedral, based on what a typical week might bring, the various events that take place and the people she meets. There isn't too much text, and Rowan Ambroses's illustrations are excellent, so it would certainly be suitable for older children as well as adults. At the end are a brief description of Doorkins' real story, and a couple of pages of annotated photographs showing some of the things she gets up to. Recommended. Incidentally, 'she' is correct; for quite some time after arrival Doorkins was thought to be 'he', until a vet visit proved otherwise!

Read our own page about Doorkins in the section for Church Cats

Able Seacats: Ships' Cats on Board Warships
Heinrich Kaufhold-Roll
(Conta Book, Bonn, Germany;
ISBN 978 3 9817399 1 4

Dr Kaufhold-Roll has written books about German tanks and other armoured vehicles of WW1, but this seems to be his first venture into naval history — and what an interesting book it is. Starting with Matthew Flinders and his cat Trim, through the nineteenth-century USS Nahant and then on into numerous accounts of twentieth-century warships and their felines, there is a wealth of information here, much of which I doubt has been published before in an accessible form. It's also lavishly illustrated and again there are many fascinating and I should think rare photographs. Not only are the cats' stories told, where known — and they range from the famous, like Simon of HMS Amethyst, to those I had never heard of — but the sailors' lives on board are described, as are several well-known naval battles. Dr Kaufhold-Roll must have done a great deal of research, and this book is a 'must' for anyone interested in naval history — and cats, of course. I was particularly interested in his conclusion that Oscar, the alleged cat of HMS Bismarck who survived three sinkings, could not have existed and in his suggestion as to how the story might have arisen.

My only adverse criticism is that there are several errors, particularly in photo captions — notably in the chapter about Simon — and in a serious book like this I wouldn't expect to find inaccuracies of that kind.

Visit our page for Wartime Cats at Sea

Able Seacats: Ship's Cats on Board Warships, by Heinrich Kaufhold-Roll
Cats on the Job, by Lisa Rogak

Cats on the Job
Lisa Rogak
(Thomas Dunne Books / St Martin's Press, New York, 2015;
ISBN 978 1 250 07237 5

A more recent 'working cats' book than Cats at Work (below) means that in 2017 probably most of the felines featured will still be alive and carrying out their duties. The 50-odd individuals aren't restricted to any one country and a large range of work is covered, from library, theatre and bookstore cats to a diabetic-alert cat, a news-anchor cat and even a feline minister (yes, really!). Each is accompanied by photos and an informal and chatty text. You might be surprised by some of the things cats can do!

Felix the Railway Cat
Kate Moore
(Michael Joseph / Penguin, 2017;
ISBN 978 0 718 18543 5

Felix, so named because as a kitten she was thought to be a male, has become probably as well-known as was Tama the Japanese station cat; her Facebook page alone has well over 100,000 followers worldwide, and people make a point of going to Huddersfield station in the hope of seeing her. This entertaining book follows her arrival as a timid youngster in 2011, at just eight weeks old, to her position as Senior Pest Controller, undisputed queen of all she surveys and proud owner of a hi-vis vest and her own dedicated cat flap! Kate Moore has done her research well and produced a fitting tribute to this diva of British railway cats.

Felix the Railway Cat, by Kate Moore
Cats at Work, by Rhonda Gray and Stephen T Robinson, photos Guy Powers

Cats at Work
Rhonda Gray and Stephen T Robinson; photos Guy Powers
(Abbeville Press, New York, 1991;
ISBN 1 55859 153 2

A nice little picture book with an informative introduction by well-known cat expert Roger Caras, this features cats in all manner of working situations in America, from bookstores and antique shops to music studios, restaurants and fire stations. Along with its photo each cat is named, its age, gender and breed are given (most are American shorthairs, i.e. moggies) and there is a brief comment from its human. Well worth a browse.

Larry the Chief Mouser and other official cats
Christopher Day
(Pitkin Publishing / The History Press, Stroud, UK, 2016;
ISBN 978 1 84165 761 5

This slim booklet, just 26 pages, is nevertheless beautifully produced and, with the aid of the National Archives, packs a great deal of information into those pages, along with some excellent photos. It ranges from Dick Whittington's time right up to the latest (mid-2016) arrivals of Gladstone and Palmerston, with stops along the way to include the Home Office cats and some Royal Navy cats, including Simon of the Amethyst. It was published just too early for the new Cabinet Office cats, Eve and Ossie, to be added, as they arrived in December 2016. Highly recommended.

Larry the Chief Mouser and other official cats, by Christopher Day


Browse titles from the index page

There's also a feature on the series of children's books by Kathleen Hale,
Orlando, the Marmalade Cat

If you would like to comment or suggest any further titles, please contact me,
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There is none better to be our featured feline at the head of the page than Dewey, beloved and famous library cat of Spencer in Iowa
until his passing at the age of 19 in 2006. Read his story here.

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