Have you Met Jack?

According to reader reviews of my latest Peter Brandt mystery thriller, The Fourth Rising, the most popular character in the book is Jack. Jack is a big guy. He wears his red hair long. He has a hardy appetite. He’s tough and doesn’t like strangers coming around his digs. And he likes to have his tummy rubbed.

Jack is a cat.

Jack came into Peter’s life as a tiny, rain-soaked kitten he found howling on his front doorstep. Little did Peter know that Jack—named after Peter’s favorite author Jack Kerouac—was a Maine coon. Maine coons grow, and grow, and grow for up to four years. When we meet Jack in The Fourth Rising, he’s fully grown and the size of a small dog. He’s also spoiled because, as Peter states, “he has sharp teeth and claws. He might kill me in my sleep.”

Jack offers a little lightness in a book about a dark subject—the rise of modern-day fascism around the world. Like many of the human characters in my books, Jack’s character was inspired by a real-life feline … well, actually six of them.

Both my wife and I have had cats our entire lives. Together we raised three generations of feline siblings and all but one of them were long-hair red tabbies. (One, Molly, was a tortoiseshell calico, which is how most females with orange tabby genes come out. Actual female orange tabbies are rare.) All of them were the inspiration for Jack.

Max, a red tabby, and his sister, Molly, the tortie, were part Maine coon and grew from tiny kittens into outsized adult cats. When I held either under their shoulders, their bodies stretched from my chin to below my knees. Harry and Alex, our last two orange tabbies, were highly territorial. It was not unusual to be waken in the middle of night as the two of them howled and hissed at visiting raccoons.

Our first two sibs, Teddy and Franny, were average in size but huge in personality. Franny used to hold court for all the neighborhood male cats who came to pay homage to her. She loved to pose for photographs. She once appeared on a magazine cover after the professional feline model had a hissy fit. Teddy, whose courage was unmeasurable, once faced off with a full-grown German Shepard while his sister dashed for safety in our house. (All our cats since Teddy and Franny have been house cats.)

When The Fourth Rising was published last year, I dedicated the book to these beautiful fur-babies who honored us with their love and gave me the inspiration for Jack. Unfortunately, Harry—whose brother passed a few years earlier­—died at the age of seventeen before I finished the book.

That’s not to say we are catless today. As far as I’m concerned, a house without a cat is not a home. We have since adopted three kittens, all sibs and all long haired, but not a red tabby among them. Amber is a gray and black tabby with crop-circle striping and amber highlights.

Her sister, Seeley, is a calico and their brother, Sam, is simply black-and-white with a black patch over one eye. (We call him the Dred Pirate Sam.) They are at least part Norwegian Forest Cat which, like Maine coons, grow exceptionally large. They recently turned two and are still growing—especially Sam. When he finishes growing, I’m planning to buy a lion tamer’s costume and join the circus with him. But that’s another story to tell.