Despite the British 'big cat' situation being with us for so long, only a handful of books have emerged over the last few decades pertaining to chronicling and investigating the so-called mystery.
Unfortunately, finding a decent book on the subject is actually harder than seeking out an elusive felid, but during Summer of this year (2007) CFZPress published Marcus Matthews long awaited 'Big Cats Loose In Britain', and alongside Karl Shuker's 'Mystery Cats Of The World' and Di Francis' 'Beast Of Exmoor' and 'Cat Country' remains the only important book on the subject.
Karl Shuker's impressive work covers strange cats from all over the world so is not strictly a book dealing with the UK phenomenon but the cats of Exmoor, Surrey and the likes get good coverage as well as many exotic and elusive species from all over the globe, and for me it is Shuker's work which remains the finest, although out-dated book on the subject.
Marcus Matthews however brings back the good old days when looking for large cats in the countryside was an adventure, a mystery to behold yet to cherish, where naivety melted into curiosity and a majority of today's researchers were not even on the scene with their irritable ways and antics.
'Big Cats Loose In Britain' is a hefty study which Marcus began when he was just 14-years old, his enthusiasm seeps from the pages and what makes this book a classic study is the fact that it covers the early years when the 'beasts' roaming the wilds were considered extremely strange and mythical, newspaper clippings piled up and sheep were being slaughtered everywhere. Marcus covers all the known legends from the West Country, to Wales, from the Isle Of Wight to Surrey, and there's even a brief section on Kent and some detailed reports on local escapees.
'Big Cats...' unfortunately has come out a little too late but it still acts as a fine window into the mystery which really began for the press in the '70s, and there are some extremely in-depth reports here, giving you a real feel for the time and you also feel as though you are joining Marcus on his hunts through the fields and woods as he interviews hundreds of witnesses, contacts many a policeman and uncovers more and more mystery cats. The only negative side to the book is the mention of connections between cat sightings and UFOs which is something that, in my opinion should be avoided. Unfortunately, over the years the 'big cat' situation has spewed out some rather cranky personalities who have come up with some peculiar theories, and even more disturbing is that some of these theories still exist today, but they are simply not required in a field where we are clearly dealing with flesh and blood animals. Although theories, as stated elsewhere on this blog, are numerous, we should not be looking beyond the means of the world we know to explain as to why cats are here, but thankfully, Marcus mentions the UFO situation but only as a quirky side theory, but you can tell his heart lies firmly in the rural landscape.
The only other flaw in the entire book is a photo allegedly showing a 'big cat' paw-print which clearly belongs to a dog, (page 258), as the rear lobs of the main pad are unlike a cat, but this aside, this book, all 350-ish pages, is a useful guide to what went on in the days of old and thankfully is bereft of the usual junk that so-many so-called researchers spout out nowadays.
Marcus is a genuine lover of the mystery and has put so much into it that he deserves all the credit he can get,.
'Big Cats Loose In Britain' is an example to so many out there who are more interested in fame, all the while having learnt all their knowledge from newspaper cuttings rather than being in the field.
The most ridiculous book on the subject has to be Merrily Harpur's 'Mystery Big Cats', which up until page fifty reads as your average 'big cat' guide, with the usual theories and run down of UK sighting areas, but once in gear the book becomes completely absurd, linking these exotic cats with everything from phantom black hounds, to UFOs, as well as mentioning such animals in the same breath daimons and other creatures of the underworld. Now, don't get me wrong, having released a book on spectral creatures and ethereal monsters, I'm all for the world that even cryptozoology will not touch, but to have such things mentioned alongside the 'big cat' mystery in the UK is not only hilarious but a concern.
There are mentions in the book of sightings of cats such as leopards and puma, near railway lines and gateways as if these sites are symbolic and connected to the paranormal. That's complete rubbish and such mentions should not be hushed let alone splattered all the way through a book. Such fine books on the subject are rare because too many like to bring unrelated mysteries into the equation. The same can be said for researchers out there who claim that these cats are teasing them with their elusive behaviour, such statements are bizarre and you can see why some serious researchers become disillusioned by the whole situation when we have so called authoritative voices within the field spewing out such rubbish.
The cats that roam the UK are NOT paranormal, they are NOT from some other void or level of existence, they are NOT connected to UFOs or phantom dogs of the past, and do not leap to and fro portal's disguised as farm gates.
If you are seeking a simple guide to West Country 'big cats' then check out Nigel Brierley's nice 'They Stalk By Night' booklet and Trevor Beer's ' The Beast Of Exmoor - Fact Or Legend ?', but avoid the books which continue to destroy the 'big cat' situation by linking it to the paranormal.
Also, why do author's/researchers of the subject continue to question the black cat sightings ? In Kent, there is no evidence to suggest we are dealing with anything but black leopards. There is no evidence at all to suggest black puma's are responsible until one is proven, and although elsewhere in Great Britain there are reports of Kellas Cats, and in occasional cases other melanistic cats, and possible very large feral cats as is the case in Australia, I'm still bemused why many books still seem to question the validity of black leopard reports. Where's the mystery ?
The 'big cat' situation should now be a scientific investigation yet still remains a mystery, a fringe subject, and much of this is to do with those whose research taints it by constantly connecting it to other worldy mysteries which do it only harm.