Spring brings an abundance of new life and activity in the briar patch outside. Two bluebirds, I suppose a pair hoping to nest, have been ferociously attacking the windows of the office (a former screened porch) where I write. I’d love for them to find a home close by, but I just don’t think inside my office is a good choice. Not when there’s a predatory tortoise-shell cat in here with me, watching their every move.
Spring brings new life and activity in the book world as well. I look forward to the arrivals of new entries in favorite series. The publishers issue them this time of year so they’ll be available for leisurely reading during vacation season, but I find myself unable to wait.
Speaking of cats, here’s a look at the latest mystery from Rita Mae Brown and her co-author, the tiger cat named Sneaky Pie Brown.
By Linda Brinson
HISS OF DEATH. By Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown. Bantam. 217 pages. $26.
It’s April in Crozet, Va., and spring is bringing warmth and color to the slopes of the Blue Ridge. Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, former postmistress turned full-time farmer, is anticipating the first real harvest of grapes from the vineyard she has worked so hard to establish.
But life and death intervene, as they usually do in the novels starring Harry and her wise cat, Mrs. Murphy. First, Harry discovers the body of Paula Benton, a well-respected, 30-something operating room nurse at Central Virginia Hospital. An autopsy finds that Paula died of anaphylactic shock, most likely from the sting of a hornet. But there was the matter of that Egyptian stone scarab Harry’s gray cat, Pewter, found in the driveway of Paula’s farmhouse.
Then Harry’s routine mammogram detects an abnormality, and Harry, who prides herself on hard work and clean living, must take the unaccustomed role of patient. Fortunately, she has her good friends and her husband, Fair, a veterinarian, to lend their support.
Just when Harry is forced to deal with the medical world much more than she would like, something seems to be very wrong among the hospital staff. Determined to rebuild her strength, Harry goes for a horseback ride with a friend, only to come upon the body of another hospital employee in definitely suspicious circumstances.
Harry’s faithful pets, the two cats and the Welsh corgi, Tucker, know that try as they might, they can’t keep their “Mom” from trying to solve the mystery – even if doing so jeopardizes her health and makes her run afoul of the killer. As usual, they’ll just have to do whatever it takes to protect her.
More than most books, I suspect, the Mrs. Murphy series are either loved or hated. Those of us who love them can’t wait for each spring’s new mystery. Those who don’t like them probably never finish the first one they pick up. Fortunately, there are a great many people in the “love ’em” category.
What’s not to like? The animals – Harry’s pets, her horses, her friend’s pets, even wild animals they encounter – talk to one another. The humans don’t understand them, of course, which makes for some humor for the readers and frustration for the animals. And Rita Mae Brown is quite willing to let the animals’ conversation and her prose further whatever causes are on her mind. This time, cancer, specifically breast cancer, is on her mind.
If you love animals, are willing to suspend a little skepticism and have ever wondered what your pets are “saying,” these books are delightful. And Brown isn’t oppressively didactic when she gets on her literary soapbox; she’s just direct – a lot like Harry Haristeen.