The Cats of J-Town: A Clash of Colonies is Raphael Karp’s debut novel, though he has been writing blogs and other material for several years. Karp’s book is aimed at the young adult market – but that is not to say that there isn’t something for the more mature reader to enjoy, too.The Cats of J-Town follows the trials and tribulations of Flax, and his trusty companion Hiker. The leader of their colony, J-Town’s Teacher, has sent them on a potentially dangerous mission to visit all the other cat colonies in the city. A threat to the peace and coexistence of the cat colonies has emerged, and the Teacher entrusts her two lieutenants with passing on the crucial message regarding a proposed meeting of all of J-Town’s cats.Flax and Hiker experience highs and lows on their travels, and the story is knitted together through differing interpretations of Shargtha – the cat code of ethics. Some cat colonies barely believe in its teachings – while still adhering to one or two of its nine elements – and others, true believers as they would see themselves, hold fast to each and every one of the precepts. Flax and Hiker meet mystical cats, hippie vegetarian cats and in the case of the black-andwhite Deocats, frequently praying and firm adherents to the literal interpretation of Shargtha.The inspiration for J-Town’s cats was clearly drawn from Jerusalem’s own demographic spread, as well as the appearance of several of the city’s identifiable landmarks. Karp writes crisply and uses sharp observation of cat behavior – courtship, eating and communication – to embellish his story.There are clear demarcations of cat colonies, whose character is reflected in Jewish populations; the Eastern cats are hospitable, presumably reflecting Sephardi Jews; and the Advancer cats have a more tenuous adherence to Shargtha, highlighting a more Reform Jewish bent. Karp does not, however, make a value-judgment about these cat sects; rather, all of the colonies are painted as having light and dark sides to them.One of my favorite passages in the book is when Hiker goes on a mini-tour of the country. In true Israeli style, when this cat finds himself far from his own territory he asks for directions, and is met with blank looks and an inability to be guided anywhere by anyone he asks.As someone born and brought up in the UK, the Australian terminology and allegory that creeps into the book at times was easy to decipher, though it might take other readers a little longer to come to grips with it. Generally, the Flax-Hiker relationship is convincingly written and played out, though there are a handful of times when the language seems a little strained. The impression that was left, however, was that for a first novel this was an engaging and easy read.The story flows along and time is given to make the main characters three-dimensional – allowing for background and texture to be woven into the narrative.Both Flax and Hiker, the principal actors in the story, are likable and you find yourself willing them to succeed. The Teacher has a well-drawn mystical and prophetic side to her: being aware of a cat’s innate abilities before he or she even realizes it themselves.