Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cat's Out of the Bag!

Author:  Rita Mae Brown
Summary:  Small towns are like families: Everyone lives very close together...and everyone keeps secrets.  Crozet, Virginia, is a typical small town--until its secrets explode into murder.

Crozet's thirty-something postmistress, Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen, has a tiger cat (Mrs. Murphy) and a Welsh corgi (Tee Tucker), a pending divorce, and a bad habit of reading postcards not addressed to her.  When Crozet's citizens start turning up murdered, Harry remembers that each received a card with a tombstone on the front and the message "Wish you were here" on the back.

Intent on protecting their human friend, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker begin to scent out clues.  Meanwhile, Harry is conducting her own investigation, unaware that her pets are one step ahead of her.  If only Mrs. Murphy could alert her somehow, Harry could uncover the culprit before another murder occurs--and before Harry finds herself on the killer's mailing list.

The Dish:  I love a good mystery as much as the next amateur sleuth, but the majority of my mystery media choice has been either through television series, like Murder, She Wrote or Diagnosis Murder, or films, such as Murder by Numbers or Kiss the Girls.  The only way I usually came across mysteries in books were those involved in plots of fantasy and science fiction novels, and the mystery was usually just part of the central story not the focus.  Wish You Were Here is the first actual book falling into the Mystery genre that I have read, and I enjoyed it immensely.  

I had been searching for a mystery series that I could actually delve into that would pique my interest, and while some suggested mysteries centralized around food or baking, I had another interest in mind.  Rita Mae Brown's books always sounded intriguing to me whenever I visited either the bookstore or the library.  True, there are similar series such as Lillian Jackson Braun's Cat Who series, but from what I read in the summaries for the Cat Who books, the protagonist just owned two cats.  They weren't really involved in solving the mysteries.  Anthropomorphic characters, when written well, can often make a story even better, and I believe Brown has done that with Mrs. Murphy and Tee Tucker.  

When people start turning up dead in Crozet, Mrs. Murphy and Tee Tucker are already on the case right alongside their beloved master, Harry.  It is these two that start to do the actual snooping even before Harry can find a connection between those who had been murdered.  Through the animal grapevine, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker learn clues about the victims and are off to investigate.  What I find most endearing about the entwining conversations between Harry and the other people of Crozet and Mrs. Murphy and Tee Tucker is how the animals are always trying to get the humans to understand them and what clues the animals find.  There are obviously some language differences, but that doesn't deter Mrs. Murphy and Tucker especially when Harry's own safety is jeopardized.  

I admit Mrs. Murphy is perhaps given more loyalty than is normally attributed in cats, but I believe it shows just how much she cares for Harry.  Cats are independent by nature, but as shown in Wish You Were Here the right human will be able to earn the loyalty and love of a feline.  It is interesting to see how Harry takes both Mrs. Murphy and Tee Tucker almost everywhere she goes, even accompanying her at work, though in a small town like Crozet, the animals' presence is not a concern for the people who do visit the post office.  Brown does create a diverse cartel of characters in the townspeople of Crozet and even includes a list of those main characters after the acknowledgements.  It's rare and refreshing to find that in most books these days, so readers are able to keep track of who is who in Crozet.  

On the overall mystery, I had a hunch about who the murderer was, but there was enough to actually have several suspects in mind; only one of the people I thought was a suspect was questioned by the sheriff.  I definitely attribute that part of my deductive mind to watching many hours of Murder, She Wrote, and I'll thank my mother for that.  I'm thrilled to say I have definitely found my mystery series, and I will be reading more Mrs. Murphy Mysteries in the future.  Thank you, Ms. Brown for creating such a delightful trio of characters as Mrs. Murphy, Tee Tucker, and Harry.  

By the way, it was actually this television movie inspired by the books that had me curious about the Mrs. Murphy Series.  

What mysteries get your detective minds going and your powers of deduction flowing?


  1. Sounds interesting. I'm not one for modern day mysteries though. I like Agatha Christie and historical mysteries like Amelia Peabody. Glad you found one that peaked your interest!

  2. It's semi-modern day since it takes place in like the 1980s. :) And I'm glad too, so I'll be getting around to reading more later in the year. I think Beth might like it for the cat value.


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