Miss Cuddlywumps reviews the classic cat mystery Whisker of Evil by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown
A human author could do a lot worse than to collaborate with a cat on a mystery series. A lot worse. Fortunately, for over twenty years Rita Mae Brown has worked with cat and co-author Sneaky Pie Brown on the Mrs. Murphy mysteries. Together they have penned twenty-three books, the most recent of which is due out later in 2014. Today I review Whisker of Evil, the series’ twelfth installment, published in 2004.
“Harry” Haristeen (her real name is Mary Minor Haristeen, but everyone calls her Harry) is a country woman, a horsewoman, and the postmistress of tiny Crozet, Virginia. One morning she is out walking the countryside with her cats and dog when they come across a dying man. His throat has been slashed, and Harry has just enough time to say a short prayer before he is gone. While she runs for help, her pets stay behind and begin investigating to find out what killed him. Their efforts are organized by the able Mrs. Murphy, a Great Cat of Mystery and one of my role models. Could have been a bear or some other animal, they think, only there are no bear tracks to be seen. Of course we already know he has been murdered (it is a murder mystery, after all), but things get really confusing when the autopsy reveals the victim had rabies. Then there is another death, of a second victim with rabies. Now the citizens and animals of Crozet are dealing with both a murder case and a rabies scare. Also, Harry has stumbled across a clue to a decades-old missing-person case that just might be connected to everything.
If only Harry weren’t so distracted, she might be able to solve the mystery more quickly. But she is worried first about her job as postmistress (and more specifically about still being able to bring her beloved pets to work), second about what she will do after she quits her job, and third about what she will do about her ex-husband, Fair Haristeen, who is a rather hunky vet and is trying to win her back. It is a good thing Harry has the wise tiger cat Mrs. Murphy, the fat gray cat called Pewter, and the corgi called Tee Tucker to help her.
The very able Mrs. Murphy investigates by questioning the animals around Harry’s property and beyond about what they know, what they’ve heard. She learns a lot, because animals know much more than people think they do. Also she keeps the barn mice in line, which I think is admirable. Pewter I have mixed feelings about. In one passage concerning the book Harry is reading, we learn that “Pewter could not have cared less about what happened to the Romans.” Most distressing. Clearly, this cat has no classical education. But the passage continues, “As far as she was concerned, it was cats that kept the empire thriving for a thousand years. Cats guarded those grain shipments from Egypt. Yes, cats were responsible for the rise of all civilizations.” So Pewter is more wise than I imagined. Tucker is a dog, but I still like her because she is a good dog and has a nice name.
Whisker of Evil is a relaxing, entertaining read. It includes a lot of information about rabies and about horses: bloodlines, steeplechasers, fox hunters. She of Little Talent enjoyed reading about the horses, and she is not even a horse person. Old SoLT also enjoyed the descriptions of country life—so different from where we live. Also, the mystery is an interesting puzzle, and let’s not forget Mrs. Murphy, who is one of the best feline characters in mystery fiction.