Cat of the Century (Mrs. Murphy Series #18)

Cat of the Century (Mrs. Murphy Series #18)

by Rita Mae Brown

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Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen’s beloved, tart-tongued neighbor Aunt Tally is about to turn the big 1-0-0, and the alumnae association of Tally’s alma mater is throwing a big fund-raising bash in her honor. The plan is to celebrate Tally’s centennial and recoup some much-needed school revenue lost in the cratered economy, but when a killer blizzard bears down and a board member goes missing, it falls to Harry and her menagerie of mystery solvers to track down the truth behind what is rapidly becoming a perfect storm of embezzlement, political corruption, and the kind of long-smoldering enmity that can explode into murder. Does the key lie in a forty-year-old unsolved death? If so, Harry and her four-legged friends better find it or—even at a hundred years old—Aunt Tally may outlive them all.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553591606
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/25/2011
Series: Mrs. Murphy Series , #18
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 232,382
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Rita Mae Brown is the bestselling author of the Sneaky Pie Brown series; the Sister Jane series; A Nose for Justice and Murder Unleashed; Rubyfruit Jungle; In Her Day; and Six of One, as well as several other novels. An Emmy-nominated screenwriter and a poet, Brown lives in Afton, Virginia.
Sneaky Pie Brown, a tiger cat born somewhere in Albemarle County, Virginia, was discovered by Rita Mae Brown at her local SPCA. They have collaborated on numerous Mrs. Murphy mysteries—in addition to Sneaky Pie’s Cookbook for Mystery Lovers and Sneaky Pie for President.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Alone figure walked along a shoveled- off bricklaid path. The dormant gardens glimmered with frost. The skies seemed low enough to touch. 

Aunt Tally, two weeks away from her one- hundredth birthday, called her Gordon setter, Doodles. 

 As the young dog joyfully returned to his master, Aunt Tally leaned on her silver- headed cane, the head being in the graceful shape of a hound. Apart from having to use that cane—thanks to the usual involuntary dismounts all horsewomen take—she betrayed few signs of her advanced years. Had you seen her peering at the ground as she walked along, you would have pegged her at eighty, perhaps. 

 “More snow coming.” She squinted at the sky this March 11, Wednesday. 

Doodles, who had sharper senses, replied, “Before sundown.” Aunt Tally stroked the dog’s head upon hearing the little yodel. Tightening her cashmere scarf, she continued on. 

A deep rumble alerted Doodles, who recognized the motor’s signature sound as well as the sound of the tires. Identifying a vehicle by its tire sound and motor is easy for dogs. Humans can’t do it. Doodles wagged her tail as she bounded up to the front of the house, where Marilyn “Big Mim” Sanburne, Tally’s niece, had parked her brand-new Dodge half- ton. 

The two walked to the back of the house to join Tally. 

Big Mim, teasingly called “The Queen of Crozet,” was a formidable woman. However, even Big Mim could be backed off by the small, lean Tally. 

“What are you doing out here? It’s 24°F.” 

“Checking for my crocus. A shoot here and a shoot there and I get to thinking about the redbuds.” 

Big Mim put one gloved hand on her hip. “Redbuds aren’t going to be in full flower until about April fifteenth. You know that.” 

“Of course I do. That doesn’t mean I can’t check them.” She tapped her cane on the old brick. “I’m longing for spring. By this time of the year I’ve had enough.” 

“You really will have enough if you don’t come in out of the cold. You’ll catch your death.” 

“It’s not a baseball,” the old woman replied. 

“You know what I mean,” Big Mim said, sounding tolerant. “Are you ready to go, or do you need anything from the house?” 

“Just need to put up the dog.” Aunt Tally walked to the back door, opened it, and Doodles scooted in, happy for the warmth. 

“Purse?” Big Mim raised an eyebrow. 

“My wallet’s in my coat pocket. Purses are a pain. Even if I find one that slings just right over my shoulder, sooner or later it drops down. Hard to carry a purse with a cane.” 

“Guess it is.” Big Mim walked to the passenger side of her blue truck and opened the door for Tally, who climbed in unassisted. Once out on the road, the two chattered as only two people who have known each other all their lives can. Aunt Tally had been pushing thirty when Big Mim was born. It was a day of celebration. Aunt Tally, thanks to a disastrous love affair when young, shied away from marriage but not affairs. She treated Big Mim as her own daughter, which had occasioned some arguments with Tally’s late, loved sister. A brother to Big Mim followed later, but he died on the hideous Bataan Death March. Apart from rage and grief, the result was that no Urquhart of any succeeding generation would buy a Japanese car or any product if they could help it. As with all old Virginia families, regard less of generations of marriages on both the male and female sides, they generally referred to themselves by the surname of the first European to settle on Virginia soil. In this case, the Urquharts. 


Aunt Tally, staring straight ahead, raised her voice a bit. “Oh, Mimsy, I make notes. I read them. I throw them out. I can’t bear the thought of standing up there spouting bromides and sentimental mush. I haven’t found what I want to say.” 

“That’s a first.” 

Aunt Tally ignored this, instead concentrating on an upcoming T-cross. Her farm, Rose Hill, reposed about four miles west of Harry Haristeen’s farm. They’d passed Harry’s place on the way to Crozet, reaching the intersection of a dirt road and the two- lane paved highway on which they traveled. 

“Can never drive over this without thinking about Ralston Peavey.” Aunt Tally repositioned her cane to her left side. “Never found his murderer.” 

“Someone really wanted him out of this world.” Big Mim remembered it, as well. “Fall, wasn’t it?” 

Aunt Tally nodded in affirmation. “A light frost, patchy fog.” 

“1964. The year sticks in my head because that was the first year Jim was elected mayor.” 

Jim Sanburne, her husband, remained mayor, and their daughter, Little Mim, was now vice mayor. The joke was, father and daughter came from two different political parties. Being a small town, Crozet never bothered with term limits. Jim, a good mayor, would most likely retain his office until such day as he died. 

“Jim picked up the call from Dinny Myers; wish we had him back. There was a sheriff with sense,” Aunt Tally mumbled. 

“Oh, the one we have now has sense. You just think everything was better when you were younger.” 

“ ’Twas.” Aunt Tally raised her voice. “This country is going to hell in a handbasket. Well, I’m not going off on that; it’ll ruin my day. But even you have to admit that Ralston Peavey was the best blacksmith you ever saw.” 

“He was. He was.” 

Pleased with her little victory, Aunt Tally recalled the details as they rolled over the spot. “Found Ralston right here, spread- eagled in the middle of the road, facedown. Run over one way and then backed over. To make sure he was dead, I reckon.” 

“Jim saw him before Dinny removed the corpse. Said the tire tracks were clear. They hoped to find the killer from the tire treads. Never happened, of course.” 

“Dinny and the department really did check every set of tires in the area. He couldn’t do all of Albemarle County, but he did check Crozet. Nothing. Not one thing. Some folks thought whoever did it was not from these parts. Not me. I think it was one of us.” 

Big Mim slowed for a curve. “Well, Ralston could drink. He was pretty loaded.” 

“He didn’t lie down in the middle of the road because he was drunk.” 

“His truck was by the side of the road.” Big Mim, who enjoyed driving her new truck, picked up speed. “I still think he’d been fooling around, and the husband found out and killed him.” 

“Maybe, but we all knew who was weak that way. He’d never done it before. Two kids—what, eight and ten—and he seemed to get along with them. I wonder if it wasn’t something else. Couldn’t be drugs. That hadn’t taken off yet.” 

“Can’t imagine Ralston a dealer. Although, being a blacksmith, he had the perfect job for distributing.” 

“No.” Aunt Tally shook her head. “Something else.” 

Big Mim paused. “Let’s just say not a stone was left unturned.” 

“One was, or we’d have the killer.” Tally frowned. 

“After all this time, maybe he’s dead himself.” 

“Mimsy, I’ve seen a lot. One of these days, might be 2050, the truth will wriggle out. Always does.” 

“Talk to Inez?” Big Mim mentioned Aunt Tally’s best friend, who had graduated from William Woods University—then known as William Woods College—two years behind Aunt Tally. The lovely school, located in Fulton, Missouri, had provided Aunt Tally with her first taste of life outside Virginia. 

“She’s flying in two days before, because of the alumnae board meeting.” 

 “Good. Harry’s driving.” 

Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen was not a William Woods graduate. She had graduated from Smith College. Age forty, best described as an attractive tomboy, she now put all her attentions to farming, her true love, as she’d quit her job at the post office two years earlier. Harry would be going to the celebration at Aunt Tally’s alma mater because she loved the old lady and knew the event was not to be missed, especi ally since the salty woman would give a speech. “Be good for Harry to get away,” Aunt Tally said. 

At that moment, Harry had her hands full with a William Woods alumna, no less. 

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Cat of the Century (Mrs. Murphy Series #18) 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 82 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read most of Rita Mae Brown's books and all of the Mrs. Murphy mysteries. I have always enjoyed Ms Brown's wit and intelligence, which shone through her past books. What happened with this book? In Cat of the Century, Ms Brown has substituted political diatribe for the everyday conversations between the few regular characters that she has retained in this edition. Susan and Miranda are mentioned only in passing and most of the rest of the regulars are not even mentioned. Much of the action takes place in a little known university in the Midwest, far away from charming town of Crozet (at least her descriptions make it sound charming). The plot is less than inspired and seems to be more a vehicle to advance Ms Brown's political views and to introduce the world to William Woods University. Most of the mystery is tied to alumnae of this university. What could have been an interesting twist involving a decades-old killing is not even tied into the main plot and seems to be solved as an afterthought. The only humor displayed in this volume involves the interplay of the animals; the human characters are mostly lacking any humor. Ms Brown -- If your purpose in writing this book was to alienate your loyal readers, you have done a good job. I will not be looking for your next book. If I wanted political commentary, I would buy a book from one of the talking heads from TV. Unfortunately, I was expecting a well-crafted and witty mystery. Your loyal readers deserve better that this.
DeeTeeSD More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed many of Rita Mae Brown's books, not just the Mrs. Murphy books. I found this to have boring characters and way too much political commentary. I guess you could use political views to develop characters but these comments did not develop anything just filled in space. Please fill-in space with more mystery or more humor or just more story. I will keep following the series but please try harder.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is outside Crozet, outside the main characters (Mrs. Murphy is barely there), outside the series story lines. I did read it all, but I didn't care for it. The author does promise to return to the series with the next book. M
TheDownloader More than 1 year ago
With each succeeding book Rita Mae Brown has become more of a soapboxer on her political views than a mystery writer. I've had enough and will not purchase any of her books again. It's not why I buy a murder mystery. If I want to read about politics I'll buy a book by someone who knows what they're talking about rather than forcing personal and biased views on unsuspecting readers. Goodbye, Rita, it was fun for a while.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm becoming a bit dismayed by Pewter seeming to become a metaphor for Ms. Brown's apparent fat phobia. We get it already, the cat is comfortably round! But to continually hammer the message that she is also lazy, doesn't want to exercise or take care of her health, and thinks of nothing but food and eating, is getting tedious and probably not a little hurtful to your overweight readers who get enough of this sort of uneducated opinion too much already in their lives. Yes, I know it's a cat and I know she's just a character, but you soapbox everything else in your books now, and it doesn't take much to figure out what you're doing with Pewter. Might I suggest you educate yourself away from your stereotype with something like Linda Bacon's book 'Fit at Any Size'? Didn't you used to be a feminist?!
RinebergReviewer More than 1 year ago
one of my favorite series and although I wouldn't have missed it, I am disheartened @ the writer's lectures. Each oration brought me out of the adventure, shattering the illusion. Plus there was much less involvement of Mrs. Murphy, Pewter and Tee Tucker which was another disappointment.
SiouxBee More than 1 year ago
I normally have enjoyed the Sneaky Pie Brown series, even though they do get a bit preachy, but this one was way over the top. I agree with the reviewers that wanted more story and less political views. This book hit one note over and over and over! Additionally, the writing seemed much less engaging than usual, almost as if a moderately gifted college writer had written it and was having a problem with how to write engaging descriptions.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Ever since Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen remarried her ex husband successful veterinarian Fair, she has been happier than she has been a in a long time; dating back to when he cheated on her during their first marriage. They live in Crozet, Virginia; a town where all the animals regardless of species can talk to each other except humans. Harry's cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and her corgi Tee Tucker wish they could so they can warn her of danger and tell her where bodies are. Several residents travel to William Woods University in Fuller, Missouri to celebrate Harry's beloved sassy Aunt Tally on her hundredth birthday. There is a lot of tension between the alumnae attending; especially between Mariah D'Angelo who owns a ritzy jewelry store and stockbroker Flo Langston. Their overt animosity divides the attendees into three groups, supporters of each and those who wish they would leave. Things turn strange when Mariah abruptly leaves. It is learned that Flo was going to accse Mariah of selling fakes in her store. When they return to Crozet, Mariah sends threatening emails to Liz Fillmore who sided with Flo and Terri Kincaid who sells high end ceramics at her shop. When Flo is killed by a sniper and Mariah is found murdered at the University, Harry and her sleuthing menagerie investigates who the killer is and why that person did it. Any Mrs. Murphy Anthropomorphic mystery is a special treat as affirmed by Cat of the Century. The love between Harry and Fair shines throughout especalliy as he gives her space she needs to be herself even when she investigates. There are plenty of suspects with motives in a well constructed cozy that readers will enjoy in this one sitting read. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the mystery story was good, the animals thoughts and interjections did nothing to move the plot along. They were a distraction and could have been cut. I thought the ending was fairly abrupt too. Probably the subplot of Ralston's murder needed to be more developed because at the end it was really a "who cares" moment.
Spot More than 1 year ago
What is it about long time authors who take liberties with faithful fans? Rita Mae Brown uses this book to spout endless platitudes. There is barely enough time to squeeze in a story. Sara Paretsky is another author who jumped the story telling ship to wax on about the wrongs of the world. A big yawn, even Harry doesn't have a roll.
khiemstra631 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The latest Mrs. Murphy Mystery takes place mostly in Missouri at William Woods University. Alas, Harry is mostly in Virginia. This leads to a weakening of the story line as it's hard to get anybody very excited about crimes that happened hundreds of miles away. Finally the action does move to Virginia leading to local involvement. The strong point of the book is the involvement of Aunt Tally Urquhart in the plot as she turned 100-years-old. I have always found Aunt Tally to be an interesting character. This books' a miss in a long chain of hits in this series. Sorry, Rita Mae!
greycatbird on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed all of the Sneaky Pie Brown books and pretty much all the RMB books I have read....up until now! She seems way more interested in having a platform for her opinions and politics than developing a good story. The book was preachy, slow and kind of boring. I mostly agree with most of her opinions but this is a novel and I want a good story!
hklibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rita went to the college of focus in this book as a requested speaker and fell in love with the campus and their Midwest values. Then she decided to focus a story around it. While the book was not bad and the mystery was ok, I felt that it had an old lady/biddy quality to it (and it really did--she was 100 yrs old that Aunt Tally). I don't think it is me, I think Rita needs to retire. Her cookie cutter characters are sooo predictable and maple syrupy wholesome. Takes me many chapters to get into the book. She can't write any romance for straights to save her life. What gets me thru the books is the animals talking to each other--and that is a small part of the book.Rita, rest on your pile of money and your laurels. Or find a way to write the way you did when you started out--like Bingo. Those were the GOOD books.
Readanon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed this series for years, but in this book I felt that the mystery kind of got lost behind all the political, environmental, religious, etc. sermonizing. While some of the issues may be valid, this kind of book is not the place to preach about them. I would like to see the series get back on track with much more concentration on the story itself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I believe this is intended to be a tribute to William Woods University. It includes lengthy political discontented rants, and strange conversations amongst animals. All evolving around two women aged 98 and 100 years old who get in a sword fight and physically fend off an intruder (???!!) This was not a happy, feel good read. Some swearing, minimal bloody scene, no adult situations. Seems as though written by a victim of financial investment gone bad, and this was a means to cleanse and heal. Hopefully, the author is enjoying improved circumstances .
mnpollio More than 1 year ago
I have been a long time fan of the Mrs. Murphy series, but I believe in truth in advertising and this does not deliver at all. I had no idea whether I was reading a list of product placements (Volvo must be on Ms. Brown's good side), a puff piece on William Woods University or a toxic screed against the government by a petulant, spoiled child who does not want to pay her taxes. Big Mim's Aunt Tally is turning 100 and her alma mater is having a big celebration. The alumnae board is filled with infighting and backstabbing, which sets the stage for murder. One could be forgiven in forgetting this is a murder mystery, since any time you start to become involved, Ms. Brown detours into an unrelated political rant. The book itself is horribly written, a problem that has become progressively worse since Harry (the heroine) left as postmistress. There is literally no reason for Harry to be onhand at the university (or why she brings her menagerie with her since dull-as-dishwater vet husband Fair remains at home). The animals have precious little to do here other than make a couple of obvious comments from the sidelines. They are not used well, nor is Harry, who has devolved into a one-note bore. Entertaining side characters like Big Mim, Little Mim, Blair, Miranda, Herb, and Susan are either conspicuously absent or make brief unremarkable appearances. A lot of time is spent with Tally and her 98-year-old friend Inez. Brown depicts a 100 and 98-year-old as chronic drinkers/smokers and yet in the bloom of health, appearing much younger and sharp. Talk about wish fulfillment. Tally's upgrade from comical support to main character proves unwelcome since Brown puts most of her toxic anti-government screed in her and Inez's mouths. At her party, Tally rises to give a nonsense badly written speech filled with misinformation, religious pandering and anti-government hit pieces and Brown writes that the student body is so gobsmacked by her authenticity that they rocket out of their seats for a standing ovation. This does not speak well for what William Woods Univ is graduating. Three-fourths in and I had put the book aside six times before trying to finish it, hoping the mystery would take precedence over the ranting. Made it literally five more pages before Inez goes on a tear blaming all of white collar crime on taxes. I finally realized I did not care who the murderer was and threw the book in the recycle bin. Dear Ms. Brown, I gather you live on an oppulent plot of farm and have a substantial income from your books. Pay your darn taxes. The corporate tax rate during the "good old days" your literary windbags Tally and Inez lament was 90+%, we are paying some of the lowest tax rates ever (when loopholes don't allow the wealthy to pay little to none). I own a home, work two jobs and pay my taxes. I am not a freeloader or parasite as you seem to believe the peons are. Pay your taxes! Paying your taxes is not akin to being "raped" as your Inez character offensively puts it, which is an outrage to actual rape victims. Your constant shrieks about paying taxes have no place in a cozy mystery series. You have lost this once faithful reader and their family of readers. In conclusion, this book stinks and pay your taxes without subjecting the rest of us to your odious verbal diarrhea about it. Alas I bought Hiss of Death at the same time and that seems to be worse. That will hit the recycle bin forthwith as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great way to spend an evening. . . solving a mystery with Mrs Murphy and the gang,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Everyone needs to read Aunt Tally's speach! They might learn something,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mull247 More than 1 year ago
Up until this book, I had pretty much devoured the rest of the series. I could not get interested in this book to save my life. The characters were uninteresting and mostly mean, even the animals were being snippy little snots. I would skip great passages of stuff about the school and politics, which added nothing to the story. all of the other books, you cared about the characters and what was happening in their lives, not this one. Very disappointed and I doubt I will bother with the rest of the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
pinklady23 More than 1 year ago
This is a light read, nothing heavy. It is part of a series, but can be stand alone. If one has read the series one would be familiar with the characters & all the animals. It's just a fun read. There is nothing heavy about this book. I do like that every book while having many of the same characters, tends to bring a few more into the fold. The other think I like is each book introduces something; agriculture, animals, a way of doing something. If you haven't read the series...give yourself a gift & read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago