Monday, May 22, 2017

A Hiss Before Dying (A Mrs. Murphy Mystery)

Author:  Rita Mae Brown
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Ebook
ISBN #:  9780553392494
Bantam Publishing
384 Pages
$14.16; $13.99 Amazon
May 30, 2017


Autumn is in the air in the Blue Ridge Mountain community of Crozet, Virginia - and all the traditions of the changing seasons are under way.  Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen cleans her cupboards, her husband, Fair, prepares the horses for the shorter days ahead, and the clamorous barking of beagles signals the annual rabbit chase through the central Virginia hills.  But the last thing the local beaglers and their hounds expect to flush out is a dead body.

Disturbingly, it's the second corpse to turn up, after that of a missing truck driver too disfigured to identify.  The deaths seem unrelated - until Harry picks up a trail of clues dating back to the state's post-Revolutionary past.

The echoes of the Shot Heart Round the World pale in comparison the dangerous shootout Harry narrowly escapes unscathed.  Next time, it may be the killer who gets lucky.  But not if Harry's furry friends Mrs. Murphy, Pewter and Tucker can help it.  Lending their sharp-nosed talents to the hunt, they'll help their mistress keep more lives from being lost - and right an injustice buried since the early days of America's independence.


Harry Haristeen and her husband Fair live on a farm in Virginia along with their two cats, Pewter and Mrs. Murphy, and corgi Tucker.  It's coming on autumn, the days are cooler and nights shorter.  While attending the annual rabbit chase on a friend's land, the pack of beagles discovers the dead body of a man.  While he's unknown to anyone, Harry does recognize what's around his neck: a chit from the American Revolution with the number 5 on it.  Why he would have it is a mystery until Harry informs her friend Coop, a local police officer, that it came from a group of them owned by her friend Liz Turner, who has an antique store.  

But why he was found there, and what he was doing there, is a question that can't be answered right now.  No one even knows who he is, until a clue comes out from left field that might just identify him, and answer all the questions swirling around in everyone's head.

Also, Liz's shop is broken into, and thousands of dollars worth of items taken, adding to the mystery of what's been going on.  Even though Harry has been lightly warned to stay out of the investigation, it isn't until she finds herself in danger that the pieces start coming together, and when they do, the result is something no one could have imagined, and something that stuns everyone in their circle of friends.

First off, let me say that I absolutely love Ms. Brown's books.  They not only create a delicious mystery to dig into, but a bit of history as well - another 'mini-book' within the first one, and that one dealing with times around the American Revolution; in this one the year is 1768.  It deals with life revolving around the Ewing family and their circle of friends and those on neighboring farms.  This time out, we have intrigue with a runaway slave, neighbors Maureen and Jeffery Holloway, how the church St. Luke's came to be built, and even a duel.  It is fascinating, to say the least, and the author ties the past in with the present in a seamless manner that connects the two easily.

Back to the present story, the mystery itself is well-crafted, and we watch while Harry, without even trying, is thrown into the middle of a conspiracy by uttering only words; we see that while she might be worried, she's angry as well and refuses to play the victim.  Harry, indeed, is the type of strong woman I love to see in a book, one that refuses to be intimidated and can hold her own, but isn't rash enough to run into danger headlong.

When we come to the end and the killer is revealed, it is bittersweet closure; an end that was truly not expected and may change the lives of some of those in Crozet, Virginia; and leaving us looking forward to the next book in the series where we can visit with the past and the present together.  Highly recommended.  

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