Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Cat's Meow

I'll admit it, I'm forcing myself to write this post tonight.  Y'all are getting a post on a series that I'm a little over halfway through, because I still (yes, still) have not powered my way through Anne Patchett's State of Wonder (don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying it, it's just not a quick read).  So, tonight, I'm going to post about Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown's Mrs. Murphy Mystery Series.  What kind of author is named Sneaky Pie, you ask: a cat!

The Basics
As of May 2011, there are nineteen books in this series.  That's right, 19!  And they're awesome!  The Mrs. Murphy books are cozy mysteries, meaning they're nice and light and fluffy (in this case, literally. Har har). In reading order, the books are (*deep breath*) Wish You Were HereRest in PiecesMurder at Monticello; Pay Dirt; Murder, She Meowed; Murder on the Prowl; Cat on the Scent; Pawing through the Past; Claws and Effect; Catch as Cat Can; The Tail of the Tip-off; Whisker of Evil; Cat's Eyewitness; Sour Puss; Puss in Cahoots; The Purrfect Murder; Santa Clawed; Cat of the Century; and Hiss of Death.

Got that?  As you can see, the majority of the titles include a cat-themed pun, which naturally appeals to my cheesy little heart.  The books follow the adventures of heroine, Mary Minor "Harry" Harristeen, the local postmistress of tiny, rural Crozet, Virginia.  Harry has a sense of curiosity that rivals any feline, and is routinely involving herself in mysteries that crop up in the area.  Fortunately, she is also aided by her pet tiger-cat (read Tabby) Mrs. Murphy and corgi Tucker and their numerous animal cohorts.  The two intrepid detectives are determined to protect their human, helping Harry along in solving mysteries as best they can.

The Books
Of course, the heavy feline presence throughout the books appeals to my cat-loving nature, but these books are so much more than just warm and fuzzy.  First and foremost, they are excellently written, well-plotted murder-mysteries.  The story moves along at a galloping pace as the characters (animal and human alike) rush to find the solutions to the puzzle with which they are presented.  While following the basic tenants of mystery writing - introducing the murderous character early on and dropping clues along the way - the stories are rarely predictable.  While I can usually (though not always) solve the mystery before it's revelation in the book, I always feel a sense of achievement for having done so. Not once have I been disappointed by too easy a solution.  Nor does Brown resort to hiding things from her readers in order to maintain the mystery (a device which I find cheap and annoying).  Everything you need to solve the plot is provided; you just have to follow the clues (and try not to let your dull human senses get in the way, as Mrs. Murphy would caution).

Brown also imbues her novels with a light, witty sense of humor.  This necessarily prevents the stories from becoming overly serious and also combats the potential ridiculousness of highly intelligent animals.  Speaking of whom, I am pleased to report that the animals are completely believable as characters, especially to anyone already inclined to provide pets with a voice (who me?).  The animals are every bit as intelligent as their human counterparts, however, they are still very much animals.  Mrs. Murphy sees the world through a very cat-like perspective, and Tucker is very much a dog. For example, the animals often rely on their sense of smell to help them solve the mystery at hand, a sense that is much more highly utilized by the animal world than the human.  The animals also behave as animals might: tearing through the house in a fits of anger, hunting mice, and begging for scraps from the table.

One of my favorite aspects of the series is the very vivid sense of place and people. As you're reading, you can practically feel your lungs breathing in the air that is Crozet, Virginia.  Brown has clearly rooted her town in a place and history with which she is very familiar.  Readers come away with a sense that this town could really exist, and more so, they come away with a sense of the South and of Virginia.  Brown's characters are also especially well developed (and, really, given the length of the series they'd better be); you come away with a real sense of each recurring character's strengths, weaknesses, wants, needs, etc.  Readers also witness the characters grow over the course of the series, moving through personal trials and reforming opinions.  Brown has created a literary world where readers witness the place and the people change and evolve.  This creates a binding thread that runs throughout the series, connecting readers to each book despite the varied central plots.

And really, what's not to love about a series with a book entitled Whisker of Evil co-authored by cat?


  • Don't forget to visit the author's webpage, filled with fun facts about the author and her writings.
  • Definitely read her mini autobiography while you're there.  For just a taste of her delightful sense of humor, here's an excerpt: "My entrance occurred on November 28, 1944, and the cats, hounds, and horses of the world rejoiced.  The humans didn't give a damn. What do they know?"
  • And of course the site for the Mrs. Murphy books themselves.
  • Because credit must go where it is due, here's a photo of both authors, most importantly, the illustrious Sneaky Pie:



  1. I'm going to try one of these, after this review!

  2. They are awesome. I let mom borrow the first three the other day.


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