Meet the Katt family: Claude (a big hearted marmalade tom cat), his lady cat Mao, Mao’s mother Sylvia and Mao’s two kittens, Pussywillow and Rupert. Despite the love in their little cottage, the battlers are finding it hard to make ends meet. Still, they are happy. Mao runs the house and pots in her spare time; Claude works as a barcat at the Railway Hotel and has a jazz group à la Benny Goodman, called The Rainbow Connection, which makes a little money on the side. The only blot on Claude’s landscape is that, through no fault of his own, he has lost touch with his mother.
Across Main Street from the Katts, live the Franchettis (both calico cats). Mr and Mrs Franchetti are retired banana farming cats; their son Bruno (always referred to on the street as Franchetti), is a close friend of Claude’s, a Vietnam vet and a softie for homeless animals. Franchetti plays clarinet to Claude’s saxophone in The Rainbow Connection. Other members of the sextet are Dollar Dog (trumpet), Wild Cat, who believes he’s the rightful heir to the throne of Ireland (guitar), the wrongly named Major Mitchell, a white cockatoo (acoustic bass), and Maxi-Max, an immense bearded dragon, who plays the drums.
Mao’s mother Sylvia mortgages the house to start a small herbalism business from home to provide for Rupert and Pussywillow’s future education; but a recession hits the small town hard. Animals line the soles of their shoes with their cancelled credit cards, and no one has any disposable income to pay for a herbalist. To add to the family’s woes, the Railway Hotel burns down, and Claude finds himself out of work. There is only one other hotel in the small town and its wallaby owner already has all the staff she needs. Sylvia’s 3,000 pounds is soon gone. (The shire reverted to Imperial currency after the secession of ‘83.)
Claude takes on a variety of casual work, ending up as a nurses’ aide at the Felines’ Nursing Home in the nearby township of Shelley Bay. When Sylvia falls behind with the loan repayments, and the bank won’t grant more time to pay the mortgage, the Katts are in danger of losing their house. Sylvia exhorts the family to economise, and the cats become reluctant vegetarians. Sylvia sells an antique cedar bookcase that had been in the family for years, Claude hocks his saxophone and Rupert takes to fishing to augment the family table. Still, they are living below the poverty line, can’t even afford to have mince in their spaghetti bolognese.
One day, after the family has been grocery shopping with an inadequate amount of money, they find a wallet containing eighty pounds in the parking lot behind the supermarket. It has ID, and Mao insists they return it to its rightful owner. This turns out to be an elderly rabbit named Lucy Lapine, who is searching for someone, but just who this someone might be remains a mystery. The Katts hope for a small reward to ease their situation — being vegetarians, they’ve decided, is a real downer. Instead, the elderly doe gives them a bunch of flowers.
In desperation, Mao and Claude go looking for opals on the ridge to the north-east of town. At the last moment, they are joined by Rupert’s friend Jacko, a neglected rabbit whose drunken father makes moonshine in the hills. Some miles from home, the three are captured by a platoon of rabbits strangely dressed in the manner of foot soldiers from the eleventh century, who work for a mysterious countess, the Lady Lapine. In a serendipitous ending, the cats find a way to save the day.
A feel-good book.