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Lit Kick: Far from a Friskies commercial, ‘Kitty’ remains a mystery

“Judy Terrano was lying on the carpet. The Virginity Nun. She looked nothing like Jesus. Her dress was shoved up to her neck. Her underwear was beside her. … She had no blood on her at all.”

UNF associate English professor Micheal Wiley’s novel “The Bad Kitty Lounge” offers up a hard-boiled detective thriller with equal parts action, mystery and comedy. ‘Kitty’ is the second in a burgeoning series which follows detective Joe Kozmarski through the Chicago streets.

While working a divorce case and spying on his client’s wife and wife’s lover, Kozmarski witnesses a man set fire to his mark’s car. He investigates the misdemeanor and soon uncovers a larger plot that ties together rich urban developers, 1960s race relations and a murdered “Virginity Nun” with a suggestive tattoo and a shady past.

Kozmarski is all the things that a detective noir hero need be: terse, reserved, divorced and alcoholic (though he’s recovering). As narrator, however, he presents himself in a light of which the other characters may only see glints. He is also a family man who takes care of his 11-year-old distant cousin Jason.

There’s a dark humor that pervades the novel as Wiley juxtaposes Kozmarki’s complex feelings with a brusque, business-like exterior. In its main character, the novel investigates the tensions between passion and obligation with no whole-hearted endorsement for either.

Wiley’s interest in cultural contact zones becomes very apparent in the interactions between the various ethnicities which inhabit the book. He takes Chicago’s real issues of gentrification, ghettoization and urban decay and translates them into a story that literally spans a week and figuratively spans the last century.

Through Kozmarski, ‘Kitty’ also typifies humanity’s search for knowledge and our simultaneous resistance to being known. Various powers within the story actually pay Joe to cease his investigation, yet he continues at the risk of his and his family’s lives.

As a man who finds things out about people for a living, Kozmarski ironically resists people knowing about him. He remarks to numerous characters, “I don’t think I like you knowing so much about me.”

The notion seems to be a comment on man’s quest for epistemological superiority – or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Read it for yourself.

My biggest gripe is that for all the danger Joe courted, I never felt an inkling of worry for him or his often imperiled family. Joe has a gun to his head on more than one occasion, but the ones holding the gun never seem to want to pull the trigger despite their supposed interest in doing so. As the plot unravels, it becomes partially clear why certain forces allow Joe to live, but his seeming impenetrability frustrated me as I read.

While ‘Kitty’ was not particularly moving or deep (and I don’t mean to imply that that is a necessary condition for “good literature”), it was an extremely entertaining page-turner of a thriller. The pace was great, and I constantly wanted to know what would happen next.

The novel, it seems, would fit equally on the shelves of pedants and casual readers alike. Wiley hopes to continue writing and intends to expand his two Kozmarski books into a 12-part series, where each novel takes place during one month of the year. Wiley is currently touring in support of ‘Kitty’ with stops in Nashville, Tenn., Chicago and Phoenix among other destinations.

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