One for the Money
- In what ways does Cat challenge stereotypes about older women in general and older women detectives in particular? What other older women detectives can you compare her with? Do you find her a believable character? Is her relationship with her kids believable?
- How surprised were you to learn about Betty Bags’s history? Do you think it’s true that we make inaccurate assumptions about the past lives of homeless people?
- Lucille’s story was fairly typical of what Black female actors experienced during much of Hollywood’s history. How much do you think has changed?
- The ending doesn’t offer any guarantee that the murderer will be convicted and punished. Does this bother you? It may be true that the guilty aren’t always punished in real life, but should they always be punished in mystery novels?
- One reviewer has complained that Cat doesn’t change much over the course of the book. Do you find that to be true and would you prefer to see the character evolve during the novel?
- Animal characters play an important role in the Cat Caliban novels, and one reviewer has commented that the cats play too big a role in One for the Money. What do you think?
- There is something especially tragic about the death of a young person as genuinely good as Juky Kay. Do you think that spoils your enjoyment of the book? Do you wish that Juky appeared in the early part of the book so that you could get to know him before he’s killed? More generally, are you bothered by the combination of tragedy and humor in the book?
- Do you find the portrait of the young basketball players authentic?
- The incidence of steroid use by young athletes is perhaps more widely known now than it was in the early 90s when the book was written. Did you guess that these were the drugs responsible for Juky’s death?
- What did you think of the ending?
- The homeless characters from One for the Money reappear in this book. Homelessness rose significantly in the U.S. after the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 resulted in the closing of many publicly funded mental institutions and the release of their residents into the community. Other economic factors exacerbated the situation. Do you think that Borton’s portrayal of homelessness is sufficiently realistic to call attention to the problem?
- How familiar were you with the extent of government surveillance of antiwar groups during the late sixties and early seventies? Is this a history that is widely known?
- In this case, the killer turns out to be a fairly sympathetic character. Did that bother you? Would you have preferred a different ending?
- How believable was the portrayal of Cat’s relationship with her youngest daughter?
Four Elements of Murder
- Much of this book takes place in a different location from that of the previous three books. Were you disappointed in the change of venue?
- Cat’s cousin is a throwback to the earlier days of the Digital Age. Of course, there are no cell phones in the Cat Caliban novels, but do Delbert and his idiom bother you or entertain you?
- This book could be described as a humorous romp through the subject of toxic waste disposal. Are some subjects so serious that they shouldn’t be presented with humor?
- Again in this book, a relatively creative way is found to punish the guilty, but does it fit the crime? Would you find a different ending more satisfying? How would you end the book?
- Nellie Justice was a woman from a poor background who made her way in the world by becoming a prostitute, then a madam, while passing for white. She flourished during a time when prostitution was legal within the confines of a designated district, then lost her source of livelihood when the political tide changed and the district was closed down. What, in your view, should the public policy be with regard to prostitution?
- Maria Longworth Nichols was a white woman from a privileged background who founded a pottery company that became world renowned. Do you see any similarity in the lives of these two women?
- According to a 2014 Science article by Lizzie Wade, an analysis of genetic results from 23andMe found that at least 3.5% of Americans who identify as white carry genetic traces of African ancestry, with higher percentages in certain areas of the country. This sample was limited to people sufficiently interested in their genetic makeup to use the website and then willing to be included in research, so the actual percentage could be higher or lower. What are the implications for our notions of race?
- Once again, a murderer goes free at the end of this book. Did this ending disappoint you? Did you find it realistic? Was the alternative punishment satisfying to you?
Six Feet Under
- As Cat learns in this book, many of the women in prison in the U.S. have been convicted of so-called victimless crimes — that is, they were in possession of illegal drugs they were using or holding for boyfriends rather than selling themselves. Do you think sentencing these women to prison is the best policy? Of course, this question requires you to consider what you believe an effective drug policy should have as its ultimate goal.
- Do you have any other thoughts on how the effects of separation can be mitigated for incarcerated women and their children?
- Child characters appear often in the Cat Caliban books. They provide opportunities for comedy as well as pathos. Do you find them realistic and Borton’s use of them effective?
- Did you feel that Rocky could have, and should have, found a different way to insure that her stepfather would not gain custody of her children?
- At last, it appears that a murderer will likely be convicted for his crime. Do you find this ending more satisfying than those of other Cat Caliban books, even though there is a note of sadness at the end? Does the likelihood of Rocky’s conviction color your opinion?
Seventh Deadly Sin
- How soon did you guess the nature of the cloud hanging over Peter Baer’s seemingly perfect life? What made you suspect?
- This book is set in the mid-eighties, and yet experts including the CDC are sounding the alarm today about teens’ mental health. What do you think has changed since 1987 and what hasn’t?
- Did you think Cat was wrong to send her cousin Delbert Sweet undercover at the New Life teen ministries? Do you think she underestimates the danger?
- Perhaps the most charming character in the book is Evie, and if the soul of Christianity is forgiveness, she is also arguably the most Christian character. What do you think Evie contributed to the book that couldn’t have been achieved without her?
- How do you feel about the ultimate uncertainty regarding Peter’s death? Do you resent the ambiguity?
Eight Miles High
- This book, which is set in 1986, invites us to consider the long shadows cast by actions in the distant past. Do you think that the advent of the Internet and social media makes it less possible to cover up events of the past? If so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
- The case of the WASP also invites us to contemplate the ways in which prejudice generates a failure of imagination. Prejudice dictated that women couldn’t fly and that they certainly couldn’t fly heavy bombers like the B-17 and the B-29, yet women flew both planes. Often WASP had to invent their own modifications, building a nest of pillows in the cockpit that would allow them to reach the controls. Do you think that an increased emphasis on inclusivity in contemporary society has generated significant progress in combating prejudice and encouraging accommodation?
- Did you find the opening chapter, which takes place in a plane on fire, effective? Did you find the strategy of interspersing returns to this present with flashbacks effective or confusing?
- In the end, Cat and her team of WASP take a fairly unconventional approach to exposing a killer, although, once again, the killer escapes prosecution. Were you satisfied with this ending?
- At what point did you first suspect Freddy Armitage’s true identity?
- Whereas in earlier books, such as Eight Miles High, Borton provides a great deal of historical background, in this book, she made a choice to omit most of the historical background and even a discussion of Freddy’s motives for her actions. Was this the right decision, in your opinion?
- One writer who reviewed this book suggested that it should not be held to a high standard of credibility but enjoyed for its entertainment value. To what standards of credibility or realism do you hold the mysteries you read?
- This book continues the pattern of ambiguous endings. Do you believe that mystery writers have an obligation to provide their readers with certainty?