‘He could foresee the end of the human race. Their downfall would be an obsession with staring at screens. All cats had to do was wait. They would take over…one living room at a time. One day, the world would be theirs. And people would just look on from their screens.’
Rear Garden, The Cat Who Knew Too Much
Behind the cheerful and modest York suburb of Acomb, lies a dark tale of murder and deceit. Its residents, unaware of the gruesome crimes that happen behind its semi-detached doors, in its mostly well-trimmed gardens and on the streets looked out on by almost clean windows.
Theodore is the large grey cat who loves tuna as much as he loves solving crimes that humans don’t see until right in front of their faces. Theodore’s new home transforms into the front-room window periphery of gory killings by an unlikely force of evil. Barrie’s feline protagonist is not without his own furry flaws: judgmental and callous to all except his owner, playing to the stereotype of a cat: mean and indescribably self-centred.
Theodore binds the human characters together in truthful exploration of suburban lifestyle; indeed, if he were able to talk the case would be cracked immediately. Through characterisations of locals only found up north and vivid location description, you find yourself in a front room donned with cat fur and DVD cases of Alfred Hitchcock movies. staring out the window into the window behind, questioning what is hidden away in the everyday life.
Rear Garden, with no shortage of humour or literary skill, provides both amusing and terrifying snapshots of what truly goes on in your next door neighbour’s, all with a condescending, obnoxious feline by your side.
I have the pleasure of knowing James through a job I had in the very suburb of Acomb where his text is set, coming together through shared love of authors, music and popular culture. He is an individual rare to come by in today’s world. His insightful recommendations and brilliant yet questionable puns are a powerful inspiration to a young writer like myself. I implore everyone to read Rear Garden and the rest of the series, if not for James, do it for your burning love or seething hatred of cats.
L T Hardy is an English Literature student at York University. He is also an essential worker at the local supermarket where I buy my wine. J B
did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing,
not alone for himself, but for every home-dwelling creature, fat or thin, hairy
or furry, from New Earswick to Middlethorpe.
A protest march was planned for the city of
York. Members of an anonymous anarchist group, who hid their faces behind Guy
Fawkes masks, planned to descend on the city to protest about the government
and the state of the nation. They were to be joined by several other groups: environmental
protestors, students against fees, old people against death, cow welfare
activists, badger cull protestors, members of a Radiohead Facebook group… You
name it – they were descending on York in their thousands.
Theodore didn’t like to think too much of the
greater concerns of the human world, if he could help it. He was beyond caring.
As long as he had food in his bowl and a warm place to sleep, he was perfectly
happy. Happy to be unaware. If only humans took the same view, the world would
be a better place. He yawned with sleepy satisfaction. Then something hit him
on the head.
He opened his eyes and glared at the dirty
nappy that was inches from his head. He sniffed the offending parcel. It smelled
of human waste. Baby waste to be precise.
‘Sorry, Theo,’ Emily said, fastening the
poppers on Joseph’s babygrow. ‘Didn’t see you down there.’
Theodore looked up. Emily had just finished
changing the baby, although Theodore preferred to refer to it as the Pink Hairless
Interloper. He got to his paws and voiced his disapproval.
‘Come on. It didn’t hurt. We all have to poo,
don’t we now?’
Perhaps it’s time you taught it to go outside,
Theodore thought back.
Emily’s attentions returned to the baby. ‘You
like tickles on the tummy,’ she said, and Theodore heard the Pink Hairless
‘You like that, don’t you… don’t you, Joey?’
And the Pink Hairless Interloper giggled again.
I think I’ll go downstairs, Theodore thought. There
might be more intelligent forms of life down there.
Unfortunately there was just Jonathan, who was
staring blankly at the television in the kitchen, a mug of tea in his hand. He
was watching the news, as if it mattered; as if what was going on in the wider
world was actually going to affect his existence. Why couldn’t I have had less
ordinary humans? Theodore wondered.
Theodore padded past him and checked out the
food bowl situation. His food had not been replenished since the night before.
Even his water bowl did not have a cat’s whisker of water in it.
He miaowed at his bowls.
‘Shush,’ Jonathan said, not looking away from
the television. ‘You’ll get fed as soon as Emily comes down.’
Jonathan knew that cats don’t miaow at other
cats. Like human babies, they just use their undeveloped vocal cords to whine
and bleat for food or drink from adult humans. They probably picked it up from
Theodore looked up at the television.
‘In other news today,’ the newsreader said, ‘a
cat has been found in a child’s packed lunch bag on a roundabout in Tang Hall,
York. A passer-by heard the cat’s cries and came to its rescue. It is now being
cared for by the York branch of the Cats Protection League.’
Theodore’s ears flattened against his head. Best
to stay indoors, Theodore thought, glancing at his cat flap. Bad things happen
He looked over at his cat basket in the corner
by the radiator. Bad things happen
outside, the cat basket agreed. As
soon as you’ve had your breakfast, you come for a nice long nap. A good eight hour
snooze will set you up nicely for the day.
Theodore’s internal monologue was interrupted
by the television newsreader in the corner of the room.
‘We have news just in… Milton Macavity, a
convicted murderer, also known as ‘The Napoleon of Crime,’ is on the run from
prison following a dramatic escape. Macavity was transferred to York Hospital early
this morning, when it appears he faked an acute appendicitis.
‘Before going into the theatre for an emergency
operation, he overpowered two prison guards and assaulted several people,
including hospital staff and members of the public, before leaving the hospital
on foot, wearing only a surgical gown. The police have warned the public not to
approach the ginger-haired man, but to phone them and report it immediately. He
has a history of violent behaviour…’
‘That’s only a stone’s throw away from us,’
Jonathan said. He picked up his mug and had a drink of Yorkshire Gold (‘a blend
of 3 leaf origins from the top 10 tea gardens in the world’). ‘An escaped
convict in the neighbourhood… Whatever next?’
Whatever, Theodore thought. We should never
have moved to Haxby Road. I think I might have said so at the time. Next?
He approached the cat flap and stared through
the rectangle of clear plastic, as a precaution to exiting.
A clothes line was hung across the yard. On it
there was a row of babygrows, bibs, tiny pairs of socks and then a mixture of Emily’s
and Jonathan’s clothes. The air was damp and there was no breeze. Rather
optimistic, thought Theodore.
Then a pink-faced man with short ginger hair and
ginger stubble appeared. He was wearing only a hospital gown. It must be the
escaped convict: Milton Macavity, Theodore deduced.
The man turned his back to the house, exposing
a pair of dirty grey boxer shorts. He cast off the hospital gown and tossed it
into the corner of the yard. He snatched a pair of black jeans from the line
and began to put them on.
Theodore turned and miaowed that Milton Macavity,
convicted murderer and escaped convict, was in the back yard stealing a pair of
Jonathan turned away from the television for a
moment. ‘You’ve got a cat flap,’ he said. ‘Use it.’
Theodore turned once more to the cat flap.
Milton was now putting on Jonathan’s red and black checked shirt. Theodore
announced the latest development.
This time Jonathan didn’t even turn round. He
just said, ‘I’m not going to get up and open the door. Just use the cat flap
like any reasonable cat.’
Theodore looked back through the cat flap.
Milton was putting on a pair of light blue and dark
blue hooped rugby socks.
Then came the voice from behind him. Why would you want to go outside? You don’t
want to go chasing escaped convicts, now do you?
Theodore turned round and looked back at his
cat basket. It was positioned in front of the radiator. It was brown and furry
with the roof stretching over to form a warm cocoon. One of Emily’s old woollen
jumpers lay in the bottom. Theodore had managed to knead the jumper to the
point that she could wear it no longer and he had then inherited it. From the
basket he could survey his food bowls, the cat flap and also any activity in
the kitchen: the epicentre of the house. His cat basket was the perfect place.
Humans spend too much time looking for perfect places. Moving houses in the
hope of happier lives. Expensive holidays in exotic locations. Retreats in
remote wildernesses… They had yet to realise that the perfect place was a warm
furry cave by a radiator. Life is oh-so-simple, if only you let it be.
Theodore blinked his eyes. He turned back to
the cat flap.
Milton was wearing Jonathan’s shirt, jeans and
socks. The escaped convict looked down at his stockinged feet and the wet grass
and shook his head. He didn’t have any shoes, Theodore realised.
Then came the voice in his head again. Just let it go, it said. They’re just clothes. Who needs clothes
after all? You come and have a sleep. This jumper is so soft. When you wake,
everything will be just fine…
Theodore knew he had to resist the call of the
cat basket. There was an escaped convict in his yard, who had stolen half of
Jonathan’s wardrobe. He needed to take up the pursuit of this escaped convict.
He nosed open the cat flap.
want to go outside,
came the voice again. Bad things happen
Oh, be quiet, Theodore thought, silencing the
voice in his head. He pushed his head and then his body through the rectangular
opening. With a snap, the cat flap shut behind him.
Milton was standing just a few yards away. He
spotted the big grey fluffy cat. He caught the cat’s eye and placed a
forefinger to his lips.
Theodore decided it would be wise to hold still
his throat and not call out the alarm.
Milton walked over to the boundary wall. He
jumped over it into the next yard.
Theodore padded over to where Milton had thrown
the hospital gown. He sniffed it. It smelled of Old Spice deodorant and stale sweat.
Theodore inhaled the odour, committing it to memory.
He glanced back at the house. From upstairs, he
could hear the Pink Hairless Interloper squealing. From the kitchen he could
hear the muted outpourings of the television. He miaowed at the house.
you don’t want to leave the comforts of home, the cat basket called back. Inside is good; outside is bad. Bad things
happen out there…
He looked at the side wall, over which Milton
had vaulted. Then he looked back at his own house. He was going to have to go
His tail raised up behind him, Theodore set off
after Milton. He jumped up on top of the boundary wall and looked across at the
rows of backyards separated by red brick walls. Milton was nowhere to be seen.
Theodore sniffed the damp autumn air. There was
the faint smell of smoke; the smell of used nappies in the outside bin,
moulding leaves in gutters, car exhaust fumes and the scent of urine sprayed by
a neighbouring cat. But he could not pick out Milton’s smell and from that the
direction which he had taken.
still come back,
the cat basket called. It’s warm by the
radiator. You can forget what you’ve seen. You can sleep away the day. You can
dream beautiful dreams…
And Theodore did consider giving in to the
voice and returning to the furry cave by the radiator. His perfect place.
But then he heard voices. Raised voices…
Theodore jumped down into the next yard and
then up onto the next wall, following the voices. He hurdled several boundary
really don’t want to do that, came the voice, fainter now.
But Theodore’s ears were pricked back and his
tail was standing up straight. He was in hot pursuit. His next case had begun.