It takes a cat to write the purr-fect mystery—
"People who love cats...have a friend in Rita Mae Brown," declares The New York Times Book Review. And nowhere is it more obvious than in this, her sixth deliciously witty foray into detective fiction written with the paws-on help of collaborator Sneaky Pie Brown, and starring that irrepressible crime-solving tiger cat, Mrs. Murphy.
As the principal of St. Elizabeth's, an exclusive private school that caters to Crozet, Virginia's, best families, Roscoe Fletcher has proven himself to be a highly effective and vastly popular administrator. So when his obituary appears in the local paper, everyone in town is upset. Yet nothing compares to the shock they feel when they discover that Roscoe Fletcher isn't dead at all. Someone has stooped to putting a phony obituary in the newspaper. But is it a sick joke or a sinister warning?
Only Mrs. Murphy, the canny tiger cat, senses the pure malice behind the act. And when a second false obit appears, this time of a Hollywood has-been who is Roscoe Fletcher's best friend, Mrs. Murphy invites her friends, the corgi Tee Tucker, and fat cat Pewter, to do a bit of sleuthing. It's obvious to this shrewd puss that two phony death notices add up to deadly trouble. And her theory is borne out when one of the men is fiendishly murdered.
"Harry" Haristeen, in her position as Crozet's postmistress, is the first to hear all the theories on whodunit—starting with the man's jealous wife. Then a second bloody homicide follows, and a third. People are dropping like flies in Crozet and no one seems to know why.
Fearlessly exploring all the places where humans never think to go, Mrs. Murphy manages to untangle the knots of passion, duplicity, and greed that have sent someone into a killing frenzy. Yet knowing the truth isn't enough. Mrs. Murphy must somehow lead Harry, her favorite human, down a trail that is perilous...to a killer who is deadly...and a climax that mystery lovers will relish.
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
"I just spoke to him yesterday." Susan gasped in shock as she read over Harry's shoulder the name Roscoe Harvey Fletcher, forty-five, who died unexpectedly September 22. She'd jumped up to see for herself.
"The paper certainly got it in the obit section quickly." Harry couldn't believe it either.
"Obit section has the latest closing." Susan again read the information to be sure she wasn't hallucinating. "Doesn't say how he died. Oh, that's not good. When they don't say it means suicide or"
"They never tell you in this paper how people die. I think it's important." Susan snapped the back of the paper.
"'The family requests donations be made to the Roscoe Harvey Fletcher Memorial Fund for scholarships to St. Elizabeth's. . . .' What the hell happened?" Harry shot up and grabbed the phone.
She dialed Miranda's number. Busy. She then dialed Dr. Larry Johnson. He knew everything about everybody. Busy. She dialed the Reverend Herbert Jones.
"Rev," she said as he picked up the phone, "it's Mary Minor."
"I know your voice."
"How did Roscoe die?"
"I don't know." His voice lowered. "I was on my way over there to see what I could do. Nobody knows anything. I've spoken to Mim and Miranda. I even called Sheriff Shaw to see if there had been a late-night accident. Everyone is in the dark, and there's no funeral information. Naomi hasn't had time to select a funeral home. She's probably in shock."
"She'll use Hill and Wood."
"Yes, I would think so, but, well" His voice trailed off a moment, then he turned up the volume. "He wasn't sick. I reached Larry. Clean bill of health, so this has to be an accident of some kind. Let me get over there to help. I'll talk to you later."
"Sorry," Harry apologized for slowing him down.
"No, no, I'm glad you called."
"Nobody called me."
"Miranda did. If you had an answering machine you'd have known early on. She called at seven a.m., the minute she saw the paper."
"I was in the barn."
"Called there, too."
"Maybe I was out on the manure spreader. Well, it doesn't matter. There's work to be done. I'll meet you over at the Fletchers'. I've got Susan and Brooks with me. We can help do whatever needs to be done."
"That would be greatly appreciated. See you there." He breathed in sharply. "I don't know what we're going to find."
As Harry hung up the phone, Susan stood up expectantly. "Well?"
"Let's shoot over to the Fletchers'. Herbie's on his way."
"Know anything?" They'd been friends for so long they could speak in shorthand to each other, and many times they didn't need to speak at all.
"Let's move 'em out." Susan made the roundup sign.
Tucker, assisted by Brooks, sneaked into the roundup. She lay on the floor of the Audi until halfway to Crozet. Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, both livid at being left behind, stared crossly as the car pulled out of the driveway.
Once at the Fletchers' the friends endured another shock. Fifty to sixty cars lined the street in the Ednam subdivision. Deputy Cynthia Cooper directed traffic. This wasn't her job, but the department was shorthanded over the weekend.
"Coop?" Harry waved at her.
"Craziest thing I've ever heard of," the nice-looking officer said.
"What do you mean?" Susan asked.
"He's not dead."
"WHAT?" all three humans said in unison.
Table of Contents
On Tuesday, April 28, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Rita Mae Brown, author of MURDER ON THE PROWL.
Moderator: Hello, Rita Mae Brown! Thank you for joining us this evening. Is your coauthor and cat, Sneaky Pie Brown, with you?
Rita Mae Brown: She's right here on the table -- and I might add, there's a dead mouse under the table!
Matt from Brooklyn, NY: What are the origins of your Mrs. Murphy series?
Rita Mae Brown: I've been writing novels since I was 22, and of course, I thought it was great literature. And Sneaky said, "You are so full of it. I will write a book better than you do, and faster." But I call hers "litter-ature."
Marco from Lake Placid, NY: Rita, tell me, what is it like to write from a cat's purrspective?
Rita Mae Brown: It's very humbling, because unless you are as dumb as a post, you have to realize that cats really are smarter. And you know, the longer I work with her, the more I realize [I should] just shut up and do it her way.
Kelere from San Diego: All of your books are wonderful. I'm still hoping to hear more about the women in RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE -) Is it hard to switch back and forth between mysteries and your other works of fiction?
Rita Mae Brown: Well, no, because I have Sneaky Pie, and in fact, it's fun for me to be able to do that, because I never get bored.
Carrie from State College, PA: Rita, have you ever thought of writing a screenplay for any of your novels? I'd be extremely happy to see RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE or SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT (my partner says SIX OF ONE or HIGH HEARTS).
Rita Mae Brown: So far, none of my novels have been made into movies. The themes are not anything Hollywood wants to deal with right now, but I have written screenplays of original material or adaptations of other people's work, and I love doing it. I adapted THE MISTS OF AVALON, and I adapted some of Faulkner's short stories, and I just did last year a two-hour documentary on the life of Mary Pickford.
Pauline W. from Richmond, VA: I really enjoyed reading RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE because I could identify with the young girl character and how she is discovering her homosexuality. Can you recommend some of your favorite movies or books that explore this topic as tastefully and passionately as you did?
Rita Mae Brown: No. There aren't any! I mean, the classics like THE WELL OF LONELINESS, written back in the '20s -- it's a completely different way to look at the world. It doesn't have any resonance for us today. And I've never found anything that had a real sense of fun about it, and what I look for is that sense of fun. Because you can't just look at the world through one event or one aspect of your life, and most all of the fiction that I've read in which a homosexual character is central, or a lesbian character is central, everything is about the homosexuality, so it's narrow. But, maybe there is something I have missed, so we'll think hopeful thoughts.
Rebecca from Peoria: Rita, you write such a wide variety of books. Do you work on more than one book at a time? Do you have scheduled hours for writing, and if so, can you make Sneaky stick to them?
Rita Mae Brown: I have scheduled hours, Sneaky does not. She relies on inspiration. It's nice of you to notice that I write a wide variety of books, and I hope that I always will. I want to keep experimenting.
Berry from Williamsburg, Virginia: What drew you to writing mysteries? Do you have a favorite time to write as well as a favorite place?
Rita Mae Brown: What drew me to mysteries was Sneaky Pie. It was her idea, because I didn't want to do anything like that, but she's proven she's smarter than I am, and that's true for anybody who lives with a cat. I have an office that I work in and a library, and Sneaky has an office all her own. And actually, I think her office is nicer than mine! I like to write very early in the morning. If I can, all things being equal, I like to get up at 5 30 and be at that typewriter about 6 30, but Sneaky's nocturnal, so she writes in the middle of the night -- all I know is I get up and it's there!
Jane from Philadelphia, PA: Have you stopped writing novels like RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE and VENUS ENVY now, or do you think that you will ever return to them?
Rita Mae Brown: I'm not conscious about what I write, it just occurs. In other words, you're giving me more credit for knowing what I'm doing than I know. I just sit down and something happens, and I'm sure there will be another novel with a strong lesbian character, but I never know when.
Valerie from Bennington, VT: At the time that RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE came out, was the sexual content more controversial than it would be today? Was it a different audience than today? Also, is the way your character discovered her sexuality similar to your own life? Thank you!
Rita Mae Brown: Was it more controversial -- yes. I mean, I got death threats. People were just horrible. Was it similar to the way my own life was -- no. No, I don't think it was a different audience. In the beginning, it was just my generation that read RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE, but now that a lot of time has passed, it was younger people as well as older people. So, there are three generations that respond to this book now. That's a big difference, and I'm glad that they do!
Carrie from State College, PA: Rita, are the dogs and/or horses jealous of Sneaky Pie's success? Do they have any plans of writing a book on their own?
Rita Mae Brown: Well, the dogs are too dumb to be jealous, but the cats seethe with jealousy. Actually, I do have a couple of intelligent dogs, and they aren't jealous, they have their own lives. But I have a horse who is really threatening to tell all, and one of my deepest fears is that she is going to link up with Sneaky Pie.
P. J. from Greensboro, NC: I love Mrs. Murphy -- it is so much more fun to read from a cat's-eye view! It give us an entirely different perspective on humans, doesn't it? Have you learned anything about people in writing from this perspective?
Rita Mae Brown: Well, that's a good question! One of the most irritating things about people is that they think they're the center of the universe. And other animals, like cats and dogs and you name it, know better. We aren't nearly as important as we think we are. In fact, as I am talking to you, Sneaky was about to come inside, just got up to the doorstep, and said, "Nah, it looks too good outside." So, she sat under a bench.
Barbara from Williamsburg: Do you prefer to have the major character be male or female? If you prefer one over the other, why?
Rita Mae Brown: Mostly, in my work, I have preferred the major character to be female, and I will tell you why. Almost all of Western literature is written from a male perspective. It's very important to redress that balance. Now, I know that I will write [from a male perspective] -- in a book I will write about four years in the future, the main character is a male just turning 30. And that will be fun for me.
Maria from Palo Alto, CA: I haven't yet read RITA WILL, although I have heard such great things about it. I am looking forward to it. How has your upbringing influenced your fiction and writing?
Rita Mae Brown: I write to get even with them. And I believe I have succeeded.
Jen from Michigan: Your novels are explosive -- you always seem to bring the misfit onto the scene of a small town to stir things up! Does this mirror your own personality? Is this what you wish to do with your fiction?
Rita Mae Brown: Well, my experience is, in about every seven people, one is a misfit. So, I'm just reflecting reality as I know it. And it's just easier to see in a smaller town.
Pam from Oak Park, IL: RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE seems like it was a landmark not only in your own writing, but for the world of fiction as a whole, with such a sassy protagonist as Molly. To what do you attribute its word-of-mouth success?
Rita Mae Brown: Oh, God...a lot of things. First of all, it's comic, and there are very few comic novels, and you can count on the fingers of one hand novels written by women with comic vision. And I also think it was the first time that we had a lesbian character on center stage, and she was happy to be a lesbian, and that just shocked people. Shocked some, gratified others. And I'm sure there are reasons I don't know. They're probably reasons we won't know for a hundred years, just because we're in the middle of this life, we don't have a perspective on it. So, I won't know.
Mina from Greenwich, CT: How long have you been writing?
Rita Mae Brown: Seriously, since I was 15, and it's all I've ever wanted to do. So, I'm one of those lucky people that got what she wanted! I hope you do what you want to do!
Jill from Beverly Hills: Do you read tons of murder mysteries yourself as research, or do you read articles in the newspapers?
Rita Mae Brown: Neither. I've read very few mystery novels in my life. I tend not to be interested in them. But I read tons of military history, biography, and I am a classics major, so I go back and read Euripides and Aristophanes -- I go back to the beginning.Sneaky Pie, she doesn't read mysteries either, but she watches Mystery Theater on PBS. She has to be visually entertained. So, between the two of us, we manage to put something together.
Jennifer from New York: Did you model the school in MURDER ON THE PROWL on any school in particular? Are any of the characters based on people at that school?
Rita Mae Brown: Well, there are a couple very good private schools in this area, and I was probably subconsciously influenced by them. But I didn't deliberately model my school on those schools. And the characters are young people that you will see in almost any school, although hopefully they won't get in as big a mess!
Ellen from Evanston, IL: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? Did you study creative writing, and did you find that helpful?
Rita Mae Brown: No, I didn't study creative writing. The last place you can learn to write is the university. You have to go out and get knocked around by the world.What helped me the most was Latin and Greek, and I think if you want to be a writer, your primary tool is language, so you have to understand the English language inside and out. And that means Latin and Anglo-Saxon. I wrote a book about writing called STARTING FROM SCRATCH -- which ought to be in your Barnes & Noble bookstore! Thank you.
Margo from Washington, D.C.: Do you ever write books that you decide not to publish for one reason or another? Do you have a lot of works from when you were younger that you never published but might publish later?
Rita Mae Brown: No. I write 'em and they go straight to my publisher. But I have ideas they don't like, and they reject books that I would like to write, and that's just part of life as a writer. But I never give up. Sooner or later, I think I'll wear them down!
Erin from Chicago: Have you ever wondered what you would be if you weren't a writer?
Rita Mae Brown: No. I'd be a farmer -- and I am a farmer, actually! You can't make any money at it these days, but it's a wonderful life. Probably not the answer you expected, huh?
Megan from Minneapolis, Minnesota: What do you think of Lilian Jackson Braun's THE CAT WHO SANG FOR THE BIRDS?
Rita Mae Brown: I never read any of her books, but if I ever get a minute, I would love to. I just think I'd like them a lot.
Elke from Pittsburgh, PA: Who are your favorite authors?
Rita Mae Brown: Aristophanes, Euripides, Plautus, Terence, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. Those are my all-time faves.
Noel Troike from Harrisburg, PA: Hi. Do you plan to attend any of this year's conventions?
Rita Mae Brown: Well, I'm not sure what conventions you mean -- I'll be at a couple of horse conventions and horse shows! But, I'll be at the Jackson Hole Writer's Conference July 4th. That's Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Megan from Richmond, VA: Good evening, Rita. I'm glad to see you online this evening. I haven't read your latest, but I plan to -- could you tell us a bit about it?
Rita Mae Brown: Well, Mrs. Murphy, our feline detective, is faced with a murder in a private school, and it's a murder that makes absolutely no sense, because it was a murder that was advertised in the newspaper before it occurred. So, she is faced with an extremely difficult problem. What's interesting about this book, it's not something you'd think of right off the bat, but the cat figures it out long before the humans, because the humans can't face it. It's pretty interesting! You'd better go out and get it -- again, at your Barnes & Noble store!
Debbie from St. Louis: I never would have guessed that you would say farmer! Were you raised on a farm, or did you come to enjoy farms as an adult?
Rita Mae Brown: I was raised on one, and I never found anything I liked better. And I hope you find what you like.
Penelope Jones from South Carolina: Your book says "by Rita Mae Brown with Sneaky Pie Brown" -- what role does Sneaky Pie have in writing your books? I'm assuming Sneaky Pie can't type...but I am certain he/she helps!
Rita Mae Brown: She's the star. I am her secretary. So, she dictates and I type. She has her own computer. And I'm not just saying that -- the cat really does have her own computer, and she will do work on her own computer, but what she loves more than anything else is the graphics package! And if you're surprised, just remember, it was Dick Wittington's cat that saved London! So, cats can do anything.
Sarah from Connecticut: Do you have more than one cat? Are the other ones publicity shy?
Rita Mae Brown: No, they're not publicity shy. There are ten others, and they have gargantuan egos! So, whenever anyone comes to photograph Sneaks -- and people come from other countries, they come from Germany, these magazines send professional photographers -- the other cats go nuts. It's so embarrassing!
Greg from New York: Do you have a favorite book that you've written?
Rita Mae Brown: It's always the one in the typewriter. I think the only way you can write a novel is you have to be totally in love with it while you are doing it. At least, I have to be! Maybe other writers don't.
Lori from Providence: Do you spend any time on the Internet? Do you ever let people know who you are when you do?
Rita Mae Brown: No, I don't spend any time on it. We are in the process of getting a home page, which I hope we'll have by June. And once I get on the d* thing, I'll let people know who I am. It's going to be ritamaebrown.com.
Mandy from San Diego, Ca: Is Crozet, Virginia, a real place? If so, could you describe it to us? If not, did you base it on anywhere, or did you create it yourself?
Rita Mae Brown: It's a real place, and it's about ten miles from where I live, and it's named for Claudius Crozet, who was a Napoleonic engineering officer captured by the Russians during the retreat from Moscow. He's a fascinating man, and he finally made it to this country and wound up here.
Maria from Indiana: Do you ever travel for inspiration? What are some of your favorite places to travel to?
Rita Mae Brown: I don't like to travel, because I have to travel so much in my work, and where I live is so beautiful that every single minute is an inspiration. I'm right at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I've been places that I think are beautiful -- Kiel, Germany, I think is beautiful. Montecito, California; Banff, Canada; Vancouver, Canada -- there are a lot of beautiful spots in the world, but my idea of hell is to travel. A book tour kills all desire to travel!
Leonard from Lubbock, TX: Do you spend a lot of time with other writers or do you find that unnecessary?
Rita Mae Brown: I live in a community that has a great many fine writers. Rita Dove lives here, John Casey, George Garrett, and that's just the beginning. And because this is a small community, you invariably run into one another. But we don't -- at least I don't -- talk shop. Gregory Orr, Mary Lee Settle, Alexander Ripley, John Grisham -- everybody lives here. And again, there are a lot of other people that are up and coming. This is a very creative community.
Olli from Boston: Does anyone else in your family write?
Rita Mae Brown: No. No, they just make trouble.
Kelly from Hoboken, NJ: Where is your favorite place to write?
Rita Mae Brown: My favorite place to write is in my library.
Lesley from Roslyn: How do you create the names for your characters? Do you just look through phone books or baby name books or something else?
Rita Mae Brown: I go to graveyards, and then I scramble the names.
Vicki from Bakersfield, CA: Are you going to be in California anytime soon to sign your book?
Rita Mae Brown: No, but I would love to be!
Paul from Morris Plains: Do you have any hobbies outside of writing and farming (and cats, of course)?
Rita Mae Brown: Fox hunting -- but we don't kill the fox. The English do, we don't.
Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us again this evening, Ms. Brown. We've really enjoyed your answers! Do you have any closing comments for our audience?
Rita Mae Brown: Do it now, you're going to be dead a long time!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book actually exceeded my expectations. I bought it at a second hand shop and expected it to be a low quality "paper" novel, but Rita Mae Brown is a pretty good writer. The maid thing I didn't like about the novel was how they revealed the murderer. There weren't many clues for the reader and it was at the very end of the book so the characters didn't have any time to react.
Usually foxes tend to make small yipping sounds and how a little. Foxes prefer to live in a den where the can be safe. They also prefer to live in a place where thy an catch their prey in pece. :). So thats wht the fox actually says. Huh
I thought this book was outstanding.It was another great story by Rita Mae Brown,and she has created another perfect plot for her character 'Mrs. Murphy.' This is a fun story that everyone should love.
I loved this book. I stayed up until all hours reading it, it was so good!It was also VERY scandalous,but that makes it even more suspenseful. Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie have done a wonderful job with this book.
This book was not only one of the best books but it kept you wanting to know more and read on. In the beginning it was a little boring but then it became interesting when the fake obit is in the newspaper. The book keeps you wanting more. Even none animal lovers will love this book. The conversations between the pets are great little hints but never giving anything away. This book also has a supriseing ending. The climax also is wonderful.