Thursday, April 26, 2012

Curious Cats and Whiskery Puns

I've been on a cozy mystery kick lately; maybe it's the onset of spring, but I've been craving tales of country life and the outdoors.  Accordingly, I've picked up where I left off in the Mrs. Murphy Series by Rita Mae Brown. I've posted a general series post, The Cat's Meow, on these books before, where I covered the overall feel of the series.  But, I think it's time to dig deeper to give you more of an idea of why you should pick this series up, so let's start with book 12.

The Basics
Brown, Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown. Whisker of Evil. New York: Bantam Books, 2005. Print.

In reviewing my previous blog post, I've realized that I never did a bio for the author - a gross oversight.  So, Rita Mae Brown. Ms. Brown has a rich history as a political activist in various rights movements. She's an active participant in American fox hunting, and her passion for fox-hunting and horses hovers ever present in much of her fiction. Lastly, she co-authors the Mrs. Murphy series with her cat Sneaky Pie, and that's probably the most awesome fact at all (or so Sebastian R. Gato informs me).

To date, there have been 20 Mrs. Murphy books and one cookbook (which I really should get my paws on). Set in the rural Southern town of Crozet, Virginia, the series follows Mary Minor "Harry" Harristeen as she sticks her nose into every mystery that comes her way. And, there's a whole lot of murder going around in Crozet (perhaps they should check the water).  Fortunately, Harry has her animal companions to bail her out with their superior senses and mystery solving skillz:  Mrs. Murphy, a tiger cat; Pewter, a somewhat chubby gray kitty; and Tucker, her loyal and dauntless Pembroke Corgi.

The Book
Let's start with the title: Whisker of Evil.  I mean, what's not to love about that title! Doesn't it just conjure the image of a cat twirling its whiskers like a villain twirls his mustache? Which brings me to the best characters in the series, the animals.  Much of this story (and the others) is told in a third person point of view that follows not the human characters, but the animals who are in the human's presence.  This makes for a really fun, interesting, and different perspective.  And, as usual, Mrs. Murphy, Tucker and Pewter are whip smart and on the job.

So far, this has been my favorite book in the series to date.  In part, this is the result of the atmosphere Brown creates for her chosen setting.  I've complimented this series before on the vividness of the countryside in which the books are set, but this book exceeds all expectations.  You don't simply get a feel for the South or Virginia in this book. The book is so steeped in themes of country life, farming, horses, Southern charm and hospitality that I feel like I could reach out and run my hands over the slightly rough wooden exterior of Harry's barn.  I don't just feel like there's a well-described vivid world for me to view; I feel like I've been plopped down in this corner of Virginia and let loose to explore. It's that well done.

The other reason this is one of my favorite books so far is the quality of the mystery. This one took me and extra long time to solve. I still got there ahead of Harry (my typical goal when reading mysteries), but this one was a little harder to piece together.  I found my suspect about halfway through, but wasn't at all sure of the whys and hows, the mechanics of the mystery, until very close to the conclusion.  I'm never convinced that I've pinpointed the correct culprit until I understand those elements.  This book really drew me in by keeping me guessing.



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