THE MAN WHO UNDERSTOOD CATS – Michael Allen Dymmoch

The award-winning THE MAN WHO UNDERSTOOD CATS is a police procedural in which the cop shares time and details with a psychiatrist who is gay.  For mystery junkies, this may sound a good bit like Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series in which a psychologist shares some of the time and most of the details with a cop who is gay.  Once past those details, the two series are very different (except that Jack Caleb and Alex Delaware are both rich and the cops aren’t).

In Michael Allen Dymmoch’s series, of which THE MAN WHO UNDERSTOOD CATS is the first, Detective John Thinnes  of the Chicago Homicide Division is called to what clearly appears to be a suicide, a young man killing himself with a gunshot to the head.  While Thinnes is examining the scene, Doctor Caleb arrives, explaining that he was concerned because Allen Findley, a young accountant, is obsessive-compulsive yet failed to arrive for a scheduled appointment.  Caleb explains that someone with Findley’s condition could not do that.

Thinnes is quick to put Caleb at the head of the list of suspects; who ever heard of a psychiatrist making house calls.  But there are things about the crime scene that set off warning bells for Thinnes, not the least of which is the perfection of the crime scene.  It looks like it was an arranged movie set for the scene in which a suicide is discovered.

The doctor and the homicide investigator have nothing in common but each is drawn to the other, seeing the honesty and decency that is part of the other man’s character.  Thinnes isn’t going to let Findley’s death be written off.  Caleb isn’t going to let Thinnes be tempted to do so.

As they investigate, they realize that Findley may have found evidence of money-laundering, art theft, and real estate fraud in one of the accounts he was assigned.  When Thinnes makes it clear that he is believes Findley was murdered,  he and Caleb are blackmailed, assaulted, and there are attempts made on their lives.  It is particularly difficult for Thinnes when he realizes that if Caleb isn’t guilty of killing Allen Findley, the most likely suspect is another cop.

I read this book when it was published in 1993; I enjoyed it then and I enjoyed it just as much the second time.  Thinnes and Caleb are very likeable characters.  Their awkwardness together gradually dissipates as they discover they have much in common.  Both men served with distinction in Vietnam. Both are intelligent men who approach their jobs practically and with reason.  Thinnes’ perception of gay men is turned around when he realizes that Caleb doesn’t fit the stereotype in anyway.  Caleb’s perception of the police is turned around when he realizes that Thinnes doesn’t fit the stereotype of gay-bashing cops looking to harm and demean homosexuals.

I have read all of Jonathan Kellerman’s books and enjoyed them neither more nor less than Dymmoch’s books.  Dymmoch’s are a much faster reading experience than Kellerman’s but the shorter length of the first’s books doesn’t mean the story is less compelling, less well-written, or less enjoyable.  I do wish that Dymmoch had written as many Thinnes/Caleb books as Kellerman has written Delaware/Sturgis books.

Readers should seek out the series and enjoy the books.

Dymmoch devotes some space to Caleb’s activities at a hospice for AIDS patients.  It is stunning to be reminded just how bad things were for people who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the early 90′s.  I found a chart published by the state of Michigan that showed the mortality rates in that state.

In 1993, the year the book was published, 691 people died from complications of AIDS.

In 2008, the last year of available statistics, 192 people died from complications of AIDS.

The number of people diagnosed with AIDS is lower as people have become aware of behaviors that are dangerous but 18,000 people died from AIDS in the US in 2007.  Because there are methods which prevent the transmission of the disease and because people who have it are living longer, it is no longer a front page story.  It is still a reality and there is still no cure.  HIV/AIDS is not just a problem in underdeveloped countries.

It is good when entertainment and education can be combined so seamlessly.

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