On this Mysterious Monday, we are pleased to return to Crozet, Virginia, for another delicious mystery from Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown. (Sneaky Pie is a cat, and therefore the brains of the operation. In case you did not know.)
The plot: past and present
This time, Mary Minor Hairsteen, known as Harry, comes across a deceased person when the deceased’s car tries to run into her. The unfortunate driver turns out to be one Barbara Leader, a home nurse who’d been caring for a former governor who is slowly dying of leukemia. You will have guessed that this death was no accident. But who on earth would kill Barbara, and why? And what on earth could it have to do with a mystery from 1784, which is told alongside the modern plot?
Let’s just say that in the South, the past never completely goes away.
Accompanied by her crew of pets (we’ll get to them in a second) and her best friend, who happens to be the governor’s granddaughter, Harry uncovers a deeply hidden secret such as could only happen in the South.
Now to our favorite part: Harry’s animal crew. There’s Tucker the dog, a corgi. There’s Pewter, a gray cat who’s a mouthy upstart. Basically. And then there’s Mrs. Murphy, the tiger cat who is one of my purrsonal heroes.* Mrs. Murphy is wise. Much wiser than any other animal, and certainly wiser than any human. We always enjoy the exchanges between the animals, which often take a humorous turn. Our one complaint about Tall Tail is that the animals don’t show up often enough, but this book has so much going for it that we just can’t complain too loudly. Plus, a dog named Piglet appears in the eighteenth-century scenes and is most important in leading the humans to something that is very, very wrong. And secret. Without Piglet, there would be no story.
One of the joys of reading the Mrs. Murphy series is the vivid descriptions of the surroundings that make you feel as though you are right there in the Virginia countryside with the Blue Ridge mountains beside you. That strong sense of place, and of time, carries into the past too, as Brown and Brown provide exactly the details needed to make the 1784 scenes seem vivid and familiar.
Speaking of those 1784 scenes, another thing we enjoy about this series—and good books in general—is that you always learn things. In Tall Tail, we learned some new things about the time when the United States was barely born. We were reminded of some things, too: issues of race and politics; human cruelty…and kindness. And mostly, how the secrets of the past really do linger into the present.
*She of Little Talent made me write “purrsonal.” I apologize deeply.
A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good read; two paws is for a great read. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!