A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Book Review: A Hiss Before Dying

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We are always excited to start one of Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy mysteries. The world she writes of—Crozet, Virginia, and its environs—is so beautifully and richly described, we expect to look out our window and see the Blue Ridge Mountains. And her characters, whom we have been reading of for over twenty years now, are like old friends. Of course there is a cat—two, in fact, or three, if you count Sneaky Pie Brown, Rita Mae’s coauthor. And there’s a dog (whatever…). Add in other pets, horses, even wild animals, all able to talk to each other, although the humans don’t understand them. The mysteries are pleasingly complex and sometimes have an element of history to them, which you know we love. A Hiss Before Dying has all this, and its parallel historical story resolves some issues brought up in the previous book, Tall Tail.

A Hiss Before Dying, by Rita Mae & Sneaky Pie BrownThe plot: Present

A Hiss Before Dying gets off to a gruesome start as Mary Minor (“Harry”) Haristeen’s animals (tiger cat Mrs. Murphy, corgi Tee Tucker, and overweight gray cat Pewter) spot a bald eagle flying off with a human eyeball grasped in its talon. Then the humans discover that something rather unfortunate has happened to a driver who was supposed to deliver a truckload of cars to a dealership. (Hint: Parts of him are missing.) That situation quickly becomes secondary though, as another body is discovered, this one a black man with no identification other than a slave chit around his neck. These chits, we learn, were given to slaves who were sent to carry messages and such from one plantation to another; they were meant to indicate that the slave was on legitimate business and was not a runaway. So the modern-day mystery is all about finding out who this dead man was and what he was doing that got him killed. Also, something weird is going on at a local church’s cemetery: someone keeps tipping over two specific headstones and messing around with the soil near them. What could that be about?

Harry starts out getting only a little bit involved in all of this, but when an attempt is made on her life too, that’s it: She’s involved. And she’s not one to sit home and wait for something to happen, so whoever’s after her had better just watch out.

The plot: Past

The parallel story is set in 1786, when the United States was a brand-new nation just trying to find its way. A slave has run away from her cruel mistress and from the even crueler slave who seems to actually run things. Some are intent on finding the runaway and collecting the reward, while others are happy to keep her hidden. Interestingly, the very slave chits mentioned as part of the modern mystery also show up here. The answer to one of the modern mysteries also lies here in the past. Oh, and there is even a duel with pistols at ten paces—on a foggy morning, no less.

Our verdict

We love a book with a strong sense of place, and Brown’s books certainly have that. She writes of Albemarle County, Virginia, a place she knows well, and everything from her descriptions of the weather to the way her characters talk works to put you in that place. The historical sections, set on the same land over 200 years earlier than the main mystery, give the setting and modern story an extra richness. We enjoyed listening in on the debates over which direction the young country should take. The modern mystery is not a simple one, though the clues are there and we had our suspicions. And of course the animals.… They aren’t really integral to solving the mystery, but they are always around, and their chatter amongst themselves is often good for some comic relief. They know the places of the story in a different way, and they often know things the humans do not. Mrs. Murphy is the very first cozy mystery cat we ever read, years ago, and we shall always love her.

Highly recommended!

Two paws up--a great read!

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!

The link below is an Amazon Associates link. If you purchase the book through this link, old SoLT and I could get some coin for our kibble account. Thank you!


  1. I know that this series is really popular, and it's great that there is a new book! Thanks for the review!

  2. I started with Mrs. Murphy (and the Cat Who series) too! Somehow I fell hopelessly behind though. I really need to start playing catch up!

  3. This does sound interesting except for the eyeball :)

  4. We have not read these as there are so many we felt we couldn't start half way * sigh *