Whisker of Evil (Mrs. Murphy Series #12)

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Overview

A mysterious death in a Virginia farm town has the locals scratching their heads—while frisky feline Mrs. Murphy and her friends, fat-cat Pewter and corgi Tee Tucker, uncover clues as they curl their way around a cold-blooded killer.

This balmy summer in Crozet, Virginia, postmistress Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen has a lot to think about. Things have been pretty cozy between her and her ex-husband, Fair and her beloved old post office is in danger of being replaced with a modern...

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Whisker of Evil (Mrs. Murphy Series #12)

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Overview

A mysterious death in a Virginia farm town has the locals scratching their heads—while frisky feline Mrs. Murphy and her friends, fat-cat Pewter and corgi Tee Tucker, uncover clues as they curl their way around a cold-blooded killer.

This balmy summer in Crozet, Virginia, postmistress Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen has a lot to think about. Things have been pretty cozy between her and her ex-husband, Fair and her beloved old post office is in danger of being replaced with a modern building—and modern rules. Harry’s thoughtful contemplation is shattered the day she stumbles over a dead body near Potlicker Creek. Barry Monteith, the handsome local horse breeder, has been savagely murdered. A true ladies’ man, Barry was known to have left a string of broken hearts behind him. But could a spurned lover be responsible for his untimely demise?

The plot only thickens when an autopsy reveals that Barry was infected with rabies weeks before he was killed. As usual, Harry can’t resist doing a little digging—with Mrs. Murphy close by to warn of approaching danger. Harry makes a remarkable discovery in the creek—the class ring of Mary Pat Reines, a local woman who disappeared thirty years earlier along with her prized Thoroughbred stallion. Like Barry, Mary Pat was a successful horse breeder—and now all of Crozet is wondering if the two cases are linked. As the police struggle with the evidence, the pressure gets hotter than a June afternoon—especially when another person is found dead of less-than-natural causes. As usual, Mrs. Murphy and her crew are the first to sniff out the truth.

But if they don’t find a way to help Harry piece together the puzzle, she could become the killer’s next target—and even Mrs. Murphy’s slinkiest moves won’t be able to save her.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Readers who think murder mysteries are the cat's meow love it when bestselling author Rita Mae Brown joins forces with her feline coauthor, Sneaky Pie Brown, for another purr-fectly plotted whodunit. In Whisker of Evil, pets and people offer delightfully different perspectives on the mysterious death of a well-liked young man in the local horse breeding business. Unfailingly curious local postmistress "Harry" Haristeen is out walking with her cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and her feisty corgi, Tucker, when they come across the mortally injured man. His throat's been ripped open, but there's no sign of either a human or animal attacker. The coroner's findings add even more troubling information to the mix -- the dead man was terminally ill with rabies at the time he was murdered. Murderers and rabies are among the most dangerous of the threats that reach across species boundaries, so the residents of Crozet, human and animal alike, are equally desperate to stop the spread of both in their hometown. As usual, Harry and her loyal nonhuman associates are soon hot on a trail that will lead them in many unexpected directions, on the way to a truth that will shake both their tiny community and the American thoroughbred industry to the core. Sue Stone
Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Brown (The Tale of the Tip-off, etc.) and her feline collaborator offer another winsome tale of endearing talking animals and fallible, occasionally homicidal humans, many of whom breed and raise horses in the small Piedmont town of Crozet, Va. Near Potlicker Creek, postmistress Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen and her pets corgi Tee Tucker, tiger cat Mrs. Murphy and fat, gray kitty Pewter discover 34-year-old breeder Barry Monteith, "fit, handsome... and fun-loving," on the ground, his slashed throat gushing blood. "Death, often so shocking to city dwellers, was part of life here in the country." Later, Harry resigns in a pique when the overzealous, obnoxious animal-control officer prohibits her pets from the post office. A reawakening of affection for Fair, her former husband, and the building of an addition to her barn complicate things further. Her animals figure she's too distracted when Harry misses vital clues to Barry's murder and to the peculiar death of a second young breeder. The mystery thickens with a strange case of rabies that brings on the state health inspectors as well as the media. Brown perhaps overdoes the details of horse breeding, record-keeping and rabies, but fans are sure to cheer as Tee Tucker, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter rush to their mistress's rescue at the harrowing climax. Illustrations by Michael Gerraty not seen by PW. (Mar. 30) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sleuthing postmistress "Harry" Haristeen can cope with visiting movie stars, a rabies epidemic, and even murder-but not the newly updated post office, which might cost her her job. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In a unique town in Virginia, the animals speak English to one another and help to solve murders. In this installment in the entertaining series, postmistress Harry finds the body of her friend Barry, a horse breeder, who seems to have been attacked by a bear. But no, it turns out that he died of rabies. When a second mysterious death occurs, the town is concerned that there will be an epidemic, and the officials refuse to let Harry's pets come to work with her. Readers learn details about rabies and horse breeding before the exciting climax in which Harry's animals fly into action to save her life. Delightful line drawings illustrate the creatures, usually in some adorable pose. Witty dialogue will bring a smile to readers' faces as the animals outsmart the humans.-Claudia Moore, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553582864
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/25/2005
  • Series: Mrs. Murphy Series , #12
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 327,671
  • Product dimensions: 6.84 (w) x 4.20 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Rita Mae Brown is the bestselling author of several books. An Emmy-nominated screenwriter and a poet, she lives in Afton, Virginia.

Sneaky Pie Brown, a tiger cat born somewhere in Albemarle County, Virginia, was discovered by Rita Mae Brown at her local SPCA. They have collaborated on eleven previous Mrs. Murphy mysteries: Wish You Were Here; Rest in Pieces; Murder 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, and The Tail of the Tip-Off, in addition to Sneaky Pie’s Cookbook for
Mystery Lovers
.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

1

Barry Monteith was still breathing when Harry found him. His throat had been ripped out.

Tee Tucker, a corgi, racing ahead of Mary Minor Haristeen as well as the two cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, found him first.

Barry was on his back, eyes open, gasping and gurgling, life ebbing with each spasm. He did not recognize Tucker nor Harry when they reached him.

"Barry, Barry." Harry tried to comfort him, hoping he could hear her. "It will be all right," she said, knowing perfectly well he was dying.

The tiger cat, Mrs. Murphy, watched the blood jet upward.

"Jugular," fat, gray Pewter succinctly commented.

Gently, Harry took the young man's hand and prayed, "Dear Lord, receive into thy bosom the soul of Barry Monteith, a good man." Tears welled in her eyes.

Barry jerked, then his suffering ended.

Death, often so shocking to city dwellers, was part of life here in the country. A hawk would swoop down to carry away the chick while the biddy screamed useless defiance. A bull would break his hip and need to be put down. And one day an old farmer would slowly walk to his tractor only to discover he couldn't climb into the seat. The Angel of Death placed his hand on the stooping shoulder.

It appeared the Angel had offered little peaceful deliverance to Barry Monteith, thirty-four, fit, handsome with brown curly hair, and fun-loving. Barry had started his own business, breeding thoroughbreds, a year ago, with a business partner, Sugar Thierry.

"Sweet Jesus." Harry wiped away the tears.

That Saturday morning, crisp, clear, and beautiful, had held the alluring promise of a perfect May 29. The promise just curdled.

Harry had finished her early-morning chores and, despite a list of projects, decided to take a walk for an hour. She followed Potlicker Creek to see if the beavers had built any new dams. Barry was sprawled at the creek's edge on a dirt road two miles from her farm that wound up over the mountains into adjoining Augusta County. It edged the vast land holdings of Tally Urquhart, who, well into her nineties and spry, loathed traffic. Three cars constituted traffic in her mind. The only time the road saw much use was during deer-hunting season in the fall.

"Tucker, Mrs. Murphy, and Pewter, stay. I'm going to run to Tally's and phone the sheriff."

If Harry hit a steady lope, crossed the fields and one set of woods, she figured she could reach the phone in Tally's stable within fifteen minutes, though the pitch and roll of the land including one steep ravine would cost time.

As she left her animals, they inspected Barry.

"What could rip his throat like that? A bear swipe?" Pewter's pupils widened.

"Perhaps." Mrs. Murphy, noncommittal, sniffed the gaping wound, as did Tucker.

The cat curled her upper lip to waft more scent into her nostrils. The dog, whose nose was much longer and nostrils larger, simply inhaled.

"I don't smell bear," Tucker declared. "That's an overpowering scent, and on a morning like this it would stick."

Pewter, who cherished luxury and beauty, found that Barry's corpse disturbed her equilibrium. "Let's be grateful we found him today and not three days from now."

"Stop jabbering, Pewter, and look around, will you? Look for tracks."

Grumbling, the gray cat daintily stepped down the dirt road. "You mean like car tracks?"

"Yes, or animal tracks," Mrs. Murphy directed, then returned her attention to Tucker. "Even though coyote scent isn't as strong as bear, we'd still smell a whiff. Bobcat? I don't smell anything like that. Or dog. There are wild dogs and wild pigs back in the mountains. The humans don't even realize they're there."

Tucker cocked her perfectly shaped head. "No dirt around the wound. No saliva, either."

"I don't see anything. Not even a birdie foot," Pewter, irritated, called out from a hundred yards down the road.

"Well, go across the creek then and look over there." Mrs. Murphy's patience wore thin.

"And get my paws wet?" Pewter's voice rose.

"It's a ford. Hop from rock to rock. Go on, Pewt, stop being a chicken."

Angrily, Pewter puffed up, tearing past them to launch herself over the ford. She almost made it, but a splash indicated she'd gotten her hind paws wet.

If circumstances had been different, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker would have laughed. Instead, they returned to Barry.

"I can't identify the animal that tore him up." The tiger shook her head.

"Well, the wound is jagged but clean. Like I said, no dirt." Tucker studied the folds of flesh laid back.

"He was killed lying down," the cat sagely noted. "If he was standing up, don't you think blood would be everywhere?"

"Not necessarily," the dog replied, thinking how strong heartbeats sent blood straight out from the jugular. Tucker was puzzled by the odd calmness of the scene.

"Pewter, have you found anything on that side?"

"Deer tracks. Big deer tracks."

"Keep looking," Mrs. Murphy requested.

"I hate it when you're bossy." Nonetheless, Pewter moved down the dirt road heading west.

"Barry was such a nice man." Tucker mournfully looked at the square-jawed face, wide-open eyes staring at heaven.

Mrs. Murphy circled the body. "Tucker, I'm climbing up that sycamore. If I look down maybe I'll see something."

Her claws, razor sharp, dug into the thin surface of the tree, strips of darker outer bark peeling, exposing the whitish underbark. The odor of fresh water, of the tufted titmouse above her, all informed her. She scanned around for broken limbs, bent bushes, anything indicating Barry--other humans or large animals--had traveled to this spot avoiding the dirt road.

"Pewter?"

"Big fat nothing." The gray kitty noted that her hind paws were wet. She was getting little clods of dirt stuck between her toes. This bothered her more than Barry did. After all, he was dead. Nothing she could do for him. But the hardening brown earth between her toes, that was discomfiting.

"Well, come on back. We'll wait for Mom." Mrs. Murphy dropped her hind legs over the limb where she was sitting. Her hind paws reached for the trunk, the claws dug in, and she released her grip, swinging her front paws to the trunk. She backed down.

Tucker touched noses with Pewter, who had recrossed the creek more successfully this time.

Mrs. Murphy came up and sat beside them.

"Hope his face doesn't change colors while we're waiting for the humans. I hate that. They get all mottled." Pewter wrinkled her nose.

"I wouldn't worry." Tucker sighed.

In the distance they heard sirens.

"Bet they won't know what to make of this, either," Tucker said.

"It's peculiar." Mrs. Murphy turned her head in the direction of the sirens.

"Weird and creepy." Pewter pronounced judgment as she picked at her hind toes, and she was right.

2

Crozet was the last stop on the railroad before the locomotive disappeared into the first of the four tunnels Claudius Crozet had dug through the Blue Ridge Mountains. This feat, accomplished before dynamite, was considered one of the seven engineering wonders of the world in the mid-nineteenth century. At the beginning of the twenty-first century they were still wonders as two remained in use; the other two were closed but not filled in.

On the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains reposed the fertile and long Shenandoah Valley, running from Winchester, Virginia, by the West Virginia line all the way to North Carolina. The Allegheny Mountains bordered the huge valley to the west.

But on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains the land, although not as fertile, could be quite good in patches.

Harry's tidy farm rested on one of those patches. Although lacking the thousands of acres of Tally Urquhart, she owned four hundred acres, give or take, plus she had kept her tobacco allotments current, allotments secured by her late father shortly after World War II. Still, like many a Southerner and especially a Virginian, Harry was land poor: good land, little cash.

Deputy Cynthia Cooper drove down the long drive with Harry in the front seat, her animals in the back of the squad car, stones crunching underneath her tires.

"House or barn?"

"House. Did my barn chores. Want coffee or tea?"

"Love coffee." Cooper stopped, cut the motor as Harry opened the doors for Mrs. Murphy, Pewter, and Tucker. The animals raced ahead, ducking through the animal door on the side of the screened door and then through the second animal door in the kitchen door.

Harry and Cooper followed them.

"Ten-thirty. I hadn't paid attention to the time." She ground coffee beans in the electric grinder as she put up water for tea. Harry loved the smell of coffee but couldn't drink it, as it made her too jumpy. "There's corn bread in the fridge. Miranda made a mess of it yesterday."

Miranda Hogendobber, a lady in her sixties, worked with Harry at the tiny Crozet Post Office, where Harry was postmistress.

The light inside the refrigerator illuminated Cooper's badge. She pulled out the corn bread and some sweet butter.

"Applesauce?"

Harry nodded. "Church of the Holy Light."

Last fall the applesauce had been cooked up to perfection by the ladies of the small church to which Miranda belonged. Harry attended St. Luke's Lutheran Church, where her friend the Reverend Herbert Jones was the pastor. She sat on the Parish Guild, impressing other, older members with her organizational skills.

"Here." Harry refilled the cats' dried-food bowl, then reached into a large stoneware cookie jar to give Tucker a smoked pig's ear.

"Thank you." The corgi solemnly took the tasty ear, remaining in the kitchen to chew it because she didn't want to miss anything.

"You okay?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"It's not every day you find a dead man."

"Dying. He was dying when we reached him. Yeah, I'm okay. I feel terrible for him, but I'm okay."

"Gurgling." Pewter added the vivid detail.

"Right." Cooper opened a drawer, grabbed two blue and yellow linen napkins, placing them by the plates. A country person herself, Cooper understood that country people lived much closer to life and death than most urban or suburban people.

"It was good of Rick to allow you to take me home. I could have walked."

Rick Shaw was sheriff of Albemarle County, an elected position and one growing ever more difficult as more wealthy people moved to this most beautiful place. Wealthy people tend to be very demanding. He was understaffed, underappreciated, and underpaid, but he loved law enforcement and did the best with what he had.

"Rick's more flexible than people realize," Cooper replied. "Once he'd inspected the corpse, questioned you, no reason to keep you. Another thing about Rick, he doesn't miss much," she said. "I hope the autopsy will reveal something. No sign of struggle. No sign that he dragged himself there." Cooper's blond eyebrows pointed upward as her mind turned over events.

"I know."

"And no scent." Tucker spoke with her mouth full.

"So handsome." Cooper sighed as she sat down while Harry served her a big mug of coffee, then took a striped creamer from the fridge and poured some of the rich eggshell-colored Devon cream into Cooper's coffee.

"Every now and then a girl has to treat herself to the best." Harry put the creamer on the checkered tablecloth as she sat down.

"Enemies--Barry?" Cooper knew Harry would know.

"He used to run with a wild crowd, but when he and Sugar started the business over at St. James Farm he sobered up."

"Sex, drugs, and rock and roll." Cooper reached for more corn bread.

"He was so good-looking and easygoing that he got away with a lot. 'Course, when his father wrapped his Nissan truck around a tree and died, that started to sober up Barry. He hasn't any family left. When he started the breeding operation he really cleaned up his act."

"I recall he left a trail of broken hearts." Cooper sipped her delicious coffee. "The last one was, uh . . ."

"Carmen Gamble. She was mad enough to kill him six months ago."

"But not strong enough to bite his throat out," Cooper added. "For all we know a mad dog bit his throat."

"Maybe."

"Boy, what a way to go." Cooper thoughtfully paused a moment.

"If I came up on Susan breathing her last, I'd--" Harry paused. "I think I'd never be the same."

Susan Tucker was Harry's best friend, married to a successful lawyer. They had one son at Cornell and a daughter in high school.

"Makes you wonder about war. Fifty-one thousand dead at Gettysburg. People get used to it. Or the siege of St. Petersburg, Leningrad. You just get used to it."

"I don't know if I could ever get used to the smell."

"Yeah, that's worse than the sight, for sure. Helps if you don't breathe through your nose."

"Certainly makes you understand why soldiers smoke--kills the odor a little bit and soothes your nerves." Harry noticed a flaming red cardinal swoop by the kitchen window, heading for the large bird feeder hanging in the old tree by the kitchen.

"That's another thing: Humans will drink, take drugs, anything to feel better. If you knew how many little drug busts we do . . . I mean, they aren't exactly selling kilos of marijuana, but the law states it's a crime and so I bust these guys. I can't keep up with it and it doesn't work, but it sure has made me think about why so many people do stuff."

"Cooper, that's easy. It feels good. Their body chemistry is a little different from yours and mine. Booze makes me sick. But for someone else, it's heaven--temporarily."

"Well, I'm thinking about drugs and alcohol in a new way. You and I know we're going to die. Humans carry around all this anxiety that stems from that original anxiety: the knowledge of death. Hence drugs and drink. You don't see Mrs. Murphy lapping up rum."

"Tastes awful. But give me some catnip." Mrs. Murphy's green eyes brightened.

"I never thought about that. Coop, you're a philosopher."

"No, just a cop." She finished her third piece of corn bread. "I'm surprised you haven't called Susan or Miranda or Fair." Fair was Harry's ex-husband, who remained a dear friend. In fact, she was thinking how much a part of her life he was and, hopefully, would always be.

"Thought I'd wait until you left. Is anything off-limits?"

"No. We don't even know enough to hold back evidence." Cooper winked. "Not that Rick would ever do such a thing."

"Right." Harry smiled. "How's he doing? I haven't seen him for a while except for today."

"He's been down at the courthouse engaged in the battle of the budget."

"No wonder I haven't seen him. Hey, to change the subject, have you heard anything about the new post office being built?"

"No more than you have. The population increase even out here in Crozet warrants a larger building."

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

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Interviews & Essays

BRC: You co-wrote WHISKER OF EVIL, a Mrs. Murphy Mystery, with Sneaky Pie Brown, your feline companion. You have said that this series began because you had no intention of writing mysteries, but Sneaky Pie wanted to. How has the collaboration evolved? What has Sneaky Pie taught you about writing --- specifically dialogue?

RMB: The collaboration evolved because The Writers' Guild struck for nine long months in 1988. The money from Hollywood dried up but the bills flowed regularly. Sneaky Pie informed me that we should work together. She wanted to do mysteries but I was horrified considering genre fiction the suburbs of literature. I have come to repent my original evaluation because both Sneaky Pie and the mystery structure have taught me a great deal about driving forward plot. Those lessons now carry-over into my own novels.

The collaboration hasn't evolved. I just do what Sneaky Pie tells me.

What she has taught me about writing is that everything is easier for cats seeing as how they are smarter than humans. Should you doubt this, I ask you: Have you found someone to put a roof over your head, allow you to commandeer the best seat in the house, feed you on time and tell you ad nauseum how beautiful and wonderful you are?

Regarding dialogue, Sneaky can't teach me a thing. You may interpret this response as my recognition that I have a great gift for idiosyncratic speech or that I am too arrogant to learn.

BRC: Mary Minor Haristeen, or "Harry," is your protagonist and an amateur sleuth. In this book, she's at a turning point, in more ways than one. Anything you can tell us about her future direction(s)?

RMB: Harry'sfuture direction forces her to resolve her financial crisis which is allied to her emotional crisis over her ex-husband, Fair Haristeen. She's forgiven him, finally but can she forgive herself? Then, too, does she really want to be married again? There's a lot to be said for a woman remaining single.

BRC: WHISKER OF EVIL involves a lot of information about the world of thoroughbreds, which is fascinating. How, when and why did you first start learning about thoroughbreds? What, if anything, did you need to learn for this book?

RBM: I grew up with horses, Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and Percherons for farm work. My mother, Julia Ellen Buckingham Brown, adored racing whether flat, harness or steeplechasing so I spent a lot of time at the tracks as a child. In those days no one thought the prospect of seeing adults gamble would harm our young minds. Today, children are prevented from the backstretch, the gaming windows, etc. but are found strong enough to withstand the daily onslaught of violence and crudity supplied by television and film.

Obviously, hanging around with Mom at the tracks did not emotionally bruise me. She knew a good horse, having a keen eye for conformation and she spent some time on pedigrees. To her credit, she won more than she lost.

I didn't have to do any research for the horse part of the novel except to say that I still study pedigrees, I make it a habit to go to sales at Keeneland or Saratoga if I can get away. I visit Lexington, Kentucky, usually two or three times a year just so I can see the horses in the back pastures as well as observe the stallions. I've been helped tremendously by Joan Hamilton of Kalarama Farm (Saddlebreds) and also the proprietor of Rose Haven Farm. Joan and Mrs. Paula Cline (Rose Haven) have been known to run a Thoroughbred or two.

For the record, I breed Thoroughbreds and TB/Quarter horses crosses which we then raise and train for foxhunting. Not many people do that anymore because it takes so much time to make a reliable hunting horse. People can't make any money on it. I break even which I consider a great victory. Last year I even nudged into the black a little bit.

BRC: In this book, you describe the Southern tradition as one that seeks to draw people together, to create community. Certainly the interaction of your characters supports that --- they're constantly bringing each other baskets of food and tempting each other with libations both alcoholic and non. How do you keep track of how your series characters have grown, changed, etc., especially in their dealings with each other?

RBM: That's an interesting question because I don't keep track of the characters. I don't really think about them, they're just there in the manner that my friends are there. I'm not an author who manipulates characters to serve the plot. For me, character is plot even in a mystery.

BRC: Some of your characters (Miranda, for example) are able to quote appropriate Scripture verses at will. You are a Christian, but you also have strong views about the church and about how others read the Bible. Could you comment on why it's so important for these characters to bring in Scripture. Is it part of their culture or done for your plot purposes?

RMB: In the South, regardless of whether we're high church or not, we're raised with the King James Version of the Bible. This is the English language at its richest, it's the language of Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlow. Plus, we had to memorize a lot which was good mental training and it's amazing how that stays with you, not just what you memorized i.e. The Twentythird Psalm but the music of the language. The biggest scaligwag can quote a little bit of Scripture in this part of the world. Some of them even wind up on television, ah yes, the electronic church. You've heard of the Church of Christ Scientist. Good old Mary Baker Eddy. Hey, we've got the Church of Christ Television. So it goes.

BRC: Although most of your books have been set in the South and are steeped in its mores and manners, at one point in this book you have a character allude to some of the South's problems (i.e., the bad old ways of the bad old days). Please talk about what Southern ways mean to you, and what, if anything, you reject about them.

RBM: Even if I wanted to reject the Southern ways, how could I? It comes in with your mother's milk. Racism has been hung about our necks but that's awfully convenient. My definition of being black is of fighting on both sides of The Civil War and still losing. Racism is a national problem. For instance, whenever I'm in San Francisco, I'm brought up short by what the attitudes of some are concerning Asian Americans. You go to the Southwest and Mexicans come in for a fair share of nastiness. Head up to upstate New York and you hear jokes about French Canadians or Newfoundland residents or immigrants.

For whatever reason, humans desperately need to look down on other humans based on irrational criteria. Were the criteria rational, they'd have to face competition from the "out" group.

Sneaky Pie has no time for any of this. Humans are beneath the salt and that's the end of it.

BRC: In the South, as you point out, appearances matter. Could you talk about this in terms of the mystery --- both as a Southern woman who has chosen to write about things beneath the surface, and as a novelist whose characters often need to delve deep in order to save themselves?

RMB: How you dress, how you address, are forms of respect. The South is an honor culture and this is something people from other parts (except the true West) don't get and probably never will. The outward forms reflect the inner organization. After awhile, those good manners become a kind of ethics. I wouldn't change it for the world. In fact, I think all Southerners should take a solemn vow when they turn eighteen: Go forth now and civilize Yankees.

BRC: Do you consider yourself a Southern writer? If not, why not --- what does being a Southern writer mean, if anything?

RMB: I don't identify myself by my work. That's what I do. It's not what I am. But for those who read my books it seems natural they'd want some kind of label so they can find the novels in the bookstore. They can call me anything they want but they'd better be careful about how they address (that word again) Sneaky Pie. "Her Highness" will do nicely.

BRC: Polo plays a large role in your own life; will you have any Mrs. Murphy books revolve around polo? If not, why not?

RMB: Polo is an addiction if ever there was one. I haven't played in three years because my ponies got so old I retired them and I haven't scratched up enough money to buy another string. Also, my polo seat (forgive the term) has improved so I need a much quicker, faster pony than before which, of course, means more money.

You may ask, well, if you make foxhunters why not polo ponies? I want to make the best foxhunters out there. That's where the time and energy goes. I don't want to make okay polo ponies. I want to buy polo ponies from someone who takes their training as seriously as I take bringing along foxhunters. Robert Lyn Kee Chow still brings them along correctly as do some others. But again, thanks to a tax structure that favors service industries, corporations and punishes agriculture, most people in the horse business have to turn over the horses quickly. You get a lot of bad horses that way and a lot of breakdowns. I can't fault people fore needing to make a living. I can only fault them if they don't tell the truth about the horse. But what I do fault is the fact that the city now holds the country hostage and I fear this far more than I fear terrorism because in the long run, the ignorance of the city dweller will destroy everything I love.

BRC: We know you have a cat (Sneaky Pie), and a Corgi (Tucker) but where did you learn so much about the other animals, domestic and wild, in this book --- whom do you call on for research?

RMB: My first memory of life is Mickey, a long-haired tabby in my crib. We were inseparable until I was seven and he passed away of old age. My grandfather kept foxhounds in his house (not unusual for his time, he was a WWI vet, learning hunting in the 1980's) and I played on the floor with them and slept with them when I visited him.

In fact, I can't live without animals most especially cats, horses, hounds and regular dogs. I even love my chickens and I had them as a child.

I can't say that I research them. I just know them and in many ways, I feel closer to them than humans.

I do however research medical advancements, i.e. retinal atrophy in certain breeds.

The hardest thing for me when I'm on tour is not the lack of sleep (you're lucky if you get four hours because of travel time to and from airports plus the search and delay once there), not even the lack of food because few things bore me more than having to sit down and eat anyway, what drags me down and makes me blue is I'm apart from my American foxhounds, my cats, my horses and all the rescue dogs currently sprawled on the sofa.

If there aren't animals in heaven, I'm not going.

BRC: In all of these books you introduce the world of Charlottesville, Crozet, and their environs. You grew up there, moved back, lived through the 80s celebrity "invasion" and have stayed long past that as both a local and a national celebrity yourself. What is the best thing about the area? The worst?

RMB: The best thing about central Virginia is the people. They're funny, eccentric, even, always ready for a good time and deeply compassionate. Don't listen to what they say, watch what they do.

Also, it's so beautiful here no matter the season that every day is a prayer of thanks.

The worst thing is the influx of new people who love the beauty, think we're charming and then bitch and moan if your hound crosses their five acres upon which sits a $750,000 mansion. You have to realize no true Southerner can understand why someone would put all that money in a house instead of buying more land. The other thing is the comeheres want everything new, new, new. Even their Georgian revivals are new. The idea of a Chinese carpet that's from 1870 and has some threadbare areas is anathema to them.

I can pretty much get along with anyone but if you're coming to the South and especially Virginia, you'd better get used to hounds crossing your land.

BRC: You're obviously passionate about animal rights, and that includes animal understanding, if you will. What one thing you wish people understood about animals that they don't?

RMB: I'm passionate about animal welfare not animal rights. Animal rights calls up the spectre of groups like PETA who engage in violence against others and smear campaigns against those who don't agree with them. These people do animals more harm than good.

As to animal welfare I believe every house pet should be neutered. I am opposed to puppy mills and the pet stores who sell those unfortunate specimens. I believe in No-kill animal shelters, the exception being made for a dangerous animal or one terminally ill. I believe the penalties for animal abuse should equal those for human abuse and here's why: very often those who torture and kill begin with animals. Let's identify them early and hit them hard.

What I wish that people understood about animals that many don't is that all the higher vertebrates are quite sophisticated structurally, mentally and emotionally. The balance and gifts vary with the species but since the dawn of patriarchy (about 10,000 years ago) the intelligence and emotive gifts of animals have been downgraded or outright denied. This is what humans do when they seek to enslave or kill. One has only to read and see how the Al Qaeda fanatics have cast us as The Great Satan to see this full blown.

Depending on the species and the individual, I believe that many animals have a greater and deeper capacity to love than we do.

We left Eden, they didn't.

BRC: You've long been known as a lesbian, an activist, an activist writer, and by oh so many other labels, however, many of your novels, such as this one, has a balanced view of life. Have you mellowed? Or do you simply feel you're calling it as you see it?

RMB: Not only have I not mellowed, I have more fire than when I was young. The trick is, I better know how to direct it.

Pretty much I call it as I see it but I am a Virginian so I might call a spade a delving instrument in the interest of preserving harmony and a more productive conversation.

BRC: What's next in the Mrs. Murphy series? Are there other book projects that you are working on?

RMB: Sneaky Pie says she never divulges her ideas. I should also tell you that as I write this she has just dragged in a large field mouse so there's no living with her.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2004

    Whisker of Evil (Mrs. Murphy Mystery Series #12)

    I love the series and am excited about the new direction it seems to be going. Should greatly increase story options. This book was a great, fun read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2004

    This series needs to be retired

    This book as well as the previous (tail of the tip off) is filled with the now old and tiring southern and northern stereotypes - the mystery takes a back seat to much pontificating - enough already - spare us!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2013

    Read doctr who if yu like this seires

    Realky do it

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2013

    Castle

    Rins castle.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2013

    Dawntail's Bio

    Gender: &female. Age: 13 Moons. Looks: Creamy white she-cat with Violet eyes. Kin; Mother: Moonfur. Father: Stormwing. Brothers: Fuzzyfur & Swiftblaze. Half Sister: Duskstorm. More...Mate: Tigerflame. Kits: No, Wishing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2013

    Redriver

    Name:redriver
    Position:medcat
    Mate:shes a med cat really?
    Age:24 moons

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2012

    A finch

    A finch flies through the night sky, unaware of the danger flying behind her. She lands on a branch and an owl swoops in, his talons outstretched...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2012

    Dapplesong

    Daplesong caught a lot. Two mice two shrews a rabbit and two thrushes

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2011

    Love Mrs. Murphy

    After years of reading romance novels I needed something different. Started reading mysteries one day I found the Joe Gray mysteries and so enjoyed them started looking to see if there were any more with animals. Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy series is a great read. I love the dialogue between the animals as well as the humans in the book. her writing makes you care about the people and what is going on in their lives. Sometimes I figure out who did it and at other times I am a little surprised. Totally enjoyable!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2005

    oustanding

    if u like murder mysteries u'll love this book! filled with twists and tricks keeps u on your toes! wonderfully written!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2005

    Great Series for Animal Lovers

    I only discovered the Tee Tucker, Ms Murphy, and Pewter series this year. With each book I read I couldn't wait to get to the next one. I still love it. The people grow and change and so do the animals. To Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie - keep them coming.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2004

    Old friends

    Love this series. I have most of them, reread my favorites - the test of a good story - and consider Harry and her animals as old friends. I get a bit impatient with the pontificating re: politics in Virginia, but I can move on to the plot and the characterizations.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2004

    Whisker of Evil (Mrs. Murphy Mystery Series #12)

    One of the best in the series, this one takes Harry, Mrs. Murphy, Tee Tucker and Pewter in a new direction. I didn't see the villian, love the changes ahead and can't wait for the next one.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2004

    A great reading experience

    In the small central Virginia town of Crozet, animals speak to each other and understand what humans say even though those dumb Homo Sapiens can¿t understand the animals. Mary ¿Harry¿ Haristeen loves her two cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter and her dog Tee Tucker who she treats as if they were her children. They feel the same way about her and many a time they saved her life when she was in the middle of a homicide investigation..................................... One day while Harry is taking a walk in the woods she comes across horse breeder Barry Monteith, moments away from death, his throat ripped open. Mrs. Murphy has a feeling that danger is coming. A few days later, Harry is looking over the crime scene and accidentally walks in the nearby creek and finds a gold ring that belonged to a horse breeder who disappeared over a quarter of a century ago. The autopsy reports that Barry had rabies but a human agent cut out his throat. Not to long after these revelations Barry¿s partner also dies from rabies and Harry is determined to find out what is really going on in her once peaceful town......................... Change is in the air for Harry at work and in her personal life and she acknowledges to herself that she must make some radical descisionss in her life. Readers will want to read WHISPER OF EVIL to find out what these changes are and how she once again finds out who the killer really is. Rita Mae Brown and her co-writer have written the purrfect who-done-it complete with red herrings and unexpected curves in the storyline..................... Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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