Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson
NINE LIVES TO DIE. By Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown. Bantam. 253 pages. $26.
Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy mysteries are light and easy-going despite the inevitable presence of at least a couple of murder victims. There’s also always some danger for Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, the human protagonist and amateur sleuth, but her four-legged, furry friends are around to avert disaster. (Of course, you understand, Rita Mae Brown’s cat, Sneaky Pie Brown, helps her write the books, providing the insight into the animals’ points of view.) Even though – or maybe because – the writing team has worked this formula many times now, “Nine Lives to Die” is fresh and fun to read.
The mysteries are good enough to keep the reader interested, but it’s the characters – human and animal – that provide the real entertainment.
In the latest tale, winter has Crozet, a small town on the edge of Virginia’s Blue Ridge, in its grip. It’s the Christmas season, and Harry, her veterinarian husband, Fair, and their friends are busy with their usual year-end activities: distributing care packages to neighbors, and attending the posh fund-raising gala for Silver Linings, an organization that helps teenage boys from needy homes.
But this year, trouble stalks the Silver Linings organization. In fairly short order, two of the prominent men who work as volunteers mentoring the boys are found dead in mysterious circumstances. Irregularities surface in the organization’s accounts, and then two severed human fingers turn up in a pencil jar in the bookkeeper’s office at a church.
Meanwhile, Harry’s intrepid animals discover old human remains in the woods near her farm.
What in the world is going on? Has somebody been getting away with murder for years? Is somebody getting away with murder now?
As usual, Harry and friends get involved in the mystery. Interesting characters in the community make the tale livelier. And the passel of pet detectives – all of whom talk in ways the readers, but not the people they live with, are privy to – leads the charge. This time, the domestic animals get help, warily, from a coyote who has moved into the neighborhood.
This would be a good book to provide a break when the run-up to Christmas gets hectic. But if you’re a fan and can’t wait that long, the descriptions of snow and cold in Virginia’s mountains can serve as a respite from summer’s heat. Either way, enjoy!