After an unexpected rekindling of their romance, Harry and her veterinarian ex-husband, Fair Haristeen, have happily remarried. But the excitement of their nuptials is quickly overshadowed by the murder of Professor Vincent Forland, a world-famous grape and fungal expert who was in town visiting the local vineyards.
Within days of giving a lecture on how distilled fungus and cattle diseases are the current basis of chemical warfare, Forland’s decapitated body is discovered. After their initial fright, the residents of Crozet believe that this was a political murder and settle back into their routines–until a local is also found dead, killed in the same gruesome manner as Professor Forland. Now residents can’t help wondering, is this really the work of an outsider–or one of their own?
No longer working in the post office, Harry had just planted a quarter acre of grapes, which fuels her natural curiosity over just what the two murder victims knew and had in common. Once the warmth of spring arrives, the grapevines blossom and Harry’s furry entourage discovers the first critical clue. But how can they show the humans what they've learned? And how can they–or anyone–stop the killing?
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
By Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
Random HouseRita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
All right reserved.
"Mary Minor, wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance, in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honor and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only to him, so long as ye both shall live?"
"I will," Harry answered in a clear voice.
The Reverend Herbert Jones, in his sonorous tone, then asked, "Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?"
Susan Tucker, next to Harry, said, "I do."
Fair, smiling, repeated what he had memorized. "I, Pharamond Haristeen, take thee, Mary Minor, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."
Perched on the balcony ledge, Mrs. Murphy, Harry's tiger cat, and Pewter, the roly-poly gray cat, observed intently. Tucker, the corgi, sat on a bench next to Mildred, the organist.
"Finally," the dog sighed.
"They're right for each other." Mrs. Murphy had cat's intuition about such matters.
"They tried it once, the second time should be the charm." Pewter wished the ceremony would speed along, because she was eager to attend the reception. The extravagance of foods thrilled her far more than contemplating human rituals.
"If you think the farm runs along like a top now, you just wait until Fair puts his back into it. He's strong as an ox." Tucker had always loved the six-foot-five-inch veterinarian. The feeling was mutual.
"Does this mean we won't be sleeping on the bed? I mean, do we have to put up with their thrashing around and all that moaning and groaning?" Pewter cherished sleep almost as much as food.
"Why would it be any different now, Pewts? Flop on the end of the bed and when they're done then go up and sleep on the pillow," Mrs. Murphy replied.
"Well, if they're married maybe they'll be doing it more, you know?" Pewter considered human physical intimacy an irritation. Then she giggled. "Or less."
"Won't be any different, except he'll be more relaxed. He's worked so hard to win her back. He'll be happy. Harry really is his great passion." Mrs. Murphy watched as Herb blessed the rings.
"Is Fair her great passion?" Pewter cocked her head.
Neither Mrs. Murphy nor Tucker said anything. After long thought, Tucker finally responded, "That's a hard question to answer."
"See, I don't think he is, even if she is marrying him," Pewter blurted out. "Look at Miranda and Tracy. He's loony about her and she swoons every time she looks at him. I mean, BoomBoom and Alicia, besotted with each other. Cow eyes, you know. But I never see that in Harry."
"Too rational." Tucker understood Pewter's point.
"Oh, we've all seen Harry toss reason to the winds. Not often, granted, but she can lose her temper or let her curiosity get the better of her. Judgment flies right out the window." Mrs. Murphy, too, pondered Pewter's observation. "She loves him. She wouldn't be standing there in that pretty dress if she didn't love him. She's," Mrs. Murphy paused, "diffident. Our dear mother gets more excited about ideas, about building a shed or planting redbud clover than she does about people. She likes people well enough and, like I said, she truly loves Fair, but her passions aren't about people. But he knows that. He knows just what he's getting."
"Guess so. They've known each other since before kindergarten." Tucker noticed Miranda wiping her eyes with a Belgian lace handkerchief. She also saw Paul de Silva holding Tazio Chappars's hand. He obviously was wildly in love with the young, talented architect. Alicia and BoomBoom didn't hold hands, but she saw Alicia give BoomBoom a handkerchief, as the Junoesque blonde was crying, too.
"Funny, BoomBoom crying, since everyone blamed her for the breakup of Harry's marriage even though they were separated," Tucker remarked.
"No one can seduce a man who doesn't want to be seduced. Fair was wrong and he paid penance. I say we forget the whole thing. Harry finally has." Mrs. Murphy was glad that Harry and BoomBoom had reclaimed a friendship out of painful circumstances.
"Guess BoomBoom and Alicia can't get married, huh?" Pewter twitched her tail, massive boredom setting in along with a grumbling stomach.
"They can, sort of, but the state doesn't recognize it." Tucker shifted her weight on the bench, which made Mildred Potter, the organist, pat her on the head.
"Why do people get married? We don't. It's such an expense, a big public display, and it costs a bloody fortune. Can't they just pair off and be done with it? Think of all the chicken and salmon and tuna and catnip you could buy with that money." Pewter honed in on her passion.
"This wedding isn't that expensive, because it's a remarriage." Tucker was getting hungry herself.
"Ha. The reception is going to cost about six thousand dollars. Probably more once the bar bill comes in. That's a lot of tuna," Pewter said.
"There's more than tuna at stake for humans. Marriage establishes paternity so a man isn't putting a nickel in another man's meter." Mrs. Murphy laughed. " 'Course, now with DNA, paternity can be established in ways that don't please all men. You play, you pay. They can no longer claim the baby isn't theirs." She paused. "The whole marriage thing is so ingrained in society that they can't really do without it. Doesn't even matter if they have children. It's something you've got to do."
"Like death and taxes." Pewter giggled.
"Aren't you glad you don't have to go through all this rigmarole?" Tucker sighed. "I'm happy Harry is marrying Fair, but it is exhausting."
"Who wants to be human? If there is reincarnation I'm coming back as myself." Pewter puffed out her gray chest.
"My, my, don't we think a lot of ourselves." Mrs. Murphy slyly batted at Pewter.
"Oh, and you'd like to come back as a caterpillar?" Pewter sassed.
Mrs. Murphy lashed out, a real whack.
Pewter struck back.
"Hey, hey, you two!" Mildred cautioned them, because it would be a long tumble down into the congregation.
Just as Herb uttered, "Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder," the people gathered below were treated to a hissing fit of such volume that a few heads tilted upward. Harry cast her eyes to behold the spectacle of Pewter giving Mrs. Murphy such a swat that the tiger cat slipped over the side of the balcony, hanging on by her claws.
"Dear God," she sighed.
"Little pagans," Herb whispered, which made Fair laugh.
With heroic effort, Mrs. Murphy hoisted herself up onto the balcony railing. Pewter shot off the railing, hit the organist's bench with all fours, endured a reprimand from Mildred and a yap from Tucker as she leapt onto the keys, which produced a mass of discordant notes throughout lovely St. Luke's Lutheran Church.
She then soared off the organ as Mrs. Murphy, in hot pursuit, gained on her. Up to the last row of the balcony, down to the exit, thundering down the carpeted stairs, Pewter skidded across the highly polished vestibule floor, knocking over the lectern with the red leather visitor's book opened. The book hit the floor. Mrs. Murphy left a few claw marks as she scrambled over the book. Pewter then turned a ninety-degree angle, bolting down the center aisle of the church.
BoomBoom reached out to grab her, but Pewter eluded the bejeweled hand, as did Mrs. Murphy. The two crazed felines headed straight for the nuptial pair.
Tucker had sense enough not to stop either cat. She watched with fascination, as did Mildred.
"You're a good doggy," Mildred crooned between her laughs.
"Yes, I am."
"I will kill you. I will kill you on Harry's wedding day!" Mrs. Murphy shouted.
"Gotta catch me first." Pewter, realizing she was the center of attention, was loving the limelight, quite oblivious to the discipline that might follow.
Herb bravely continued, and as he was pronouncing Fair and Harry husband and wife he rolled his eyes skyward, imploring the Lord not only to bless those two humans but to bless the two cats in quite a different way.
Pewter ducked under Harry's train. Mrs. Murphy wiggled right under. Pewter then emerged from the back of Harry's train with such force that Fair held on to her as Herb ended the ceremony with ". . . that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen."
Before Fair kissed his bride, they both watched Pewter land on the altar. She crouched behind the large gold cross. Mrs. Murphy landed on the altar, as well, the two towering floral displays on either side of the cross swaying unpredictably. The cats fought each other on either side of the cross.
Fair whispered, "Honey, let me kiss you before they wreck the place."
He kissed her and she kissed back, and when they broke the kiss, they just laughed until the tears came to their eyes. By now everyone was mesmerized, and it was dawning on Pewter that as much as she adored all these eyes upon her there might be hell to pay.
"She started it!" Pewter bellowed.
"I did not, you fat fat water rat!" Mrs. Murphy aimed a precise blow across the top of the cross.
Rushing in from the back to the side of the altar were Herb's cats, Elocution, Cazenovia, and Lucy Fur.
"What are you doing?" Cazenovia called to the warring kitties.
"You'd better stop or there will be blue murder," Lucy Fur, a sensible type, admonished.
"I'll kill her for sure!" Mrs. Murphy, livid, agreed to the murder rap.
The three church cats positioned themselves in front of the altar.
Elocution very sweetly pleaded, "If you don't stop, Poppy will get awfully upset. Come on." She loved Herb.
Mrs. Murphy, her back to the congregation, turned to look down at the three cats. Then she looked at all the people. She'd forgotten about them.
"Holy shit!" She leapt down.
"See, not only did she start it, she's a blasphemer." Pewter rejoiced in this moment.
With three strides of his long legs, Fair walked up and scooped Mrs. Murphy, ears flat against her head, into his arms.
"Pewter, you get out from behind the cross," Fair commanded.
Harry lifted her train, joining her husband. "Pewter, come on now. We'll forgive you if you come off the altar. Remember, forgiveness is Christian."
"Do it." Cazenovia added to Harry's plea.
Pewter slunk out from behind the cross. "I am innocent."
"That's what they all say." Fair laughed as though he understood Pewter's meow.
Bride and groom, each carrying an extremely naughty cat, walked down the center aisle as Mildred hit the keys.
Miranda, the lead singer in the choir of the charismatic Church of the Holy Light, said as the bride and groom walked by, "My delight is in the Lord; because He hath heard the voice of my prayer."
"Happy that they're finally married, honeybun?" Tracy held her hand.
"Yes, but my prayer was those two bad cats would get caught," Miranda replied.
The reception, held at the farm, exceeded everyone's expectations for a perfect April day. Small tables set up under the trees each had a lovely spring-flower arrangement. The food was truly superb, and Patricia Kluge and Bill Moses supplied all the wines from their Kluge Estates Vineyard. Over two hundred guests came to celebrate this glorious day. Even Mrs. Murphy and Pewter were forgiven as Harry fed them bits of turkey, ham, roast pork, and salmon.
She said to Fair, "No one will forget our wedding day."
He'd just given Tucker a whole sweet potato as people toasted the bride and groom. "I know I won't."
It was all seemingly perfect.
The heaven-sent warmth and sunshine of Sunday, April 16, Harry and Fair's wedding day, evaporated on April 17 as a cold front swept down from Canada, bringing glowering skies, a drop in temperature, and cool showers.
T. S. Eliot wrote, "April is the cruelest month." It is doubtful he had agriculture in mind when he penned that immortal line, the beginning to one of the most famous poems in English letters, but any farmer in Virginia can tell you he was right.
A sixty-eight-degree day can be followed by a blizzard. This Monday, while not blizzard weather, proved cold enough for scarf, gloves, Barbour coat, and Thinsulate-lined work boots, all of which Harry wore as she checked the mares and foals. The mares, bequeathed to her and Fair by a friend who died quite young, unexpectedly, each delivered beautiful foals. Harry could never have afforded the stud fees. She marveled at how correct the three fillies and one colt were as they nuzzled up to their respective mothers.
Most couples marry in June; October is the second-most popular month, and the Christmas season is also popular. Since Harry worked the farm and Fair, a vet, specialized in equine reproduction, April was the best choice. The crush of delivering foals at two in the morning abated for him; the press of farm chores remained relatively light.
Harry walked the paddock fence lines. So many horse injuries are fence-related. Checking the fences every day was part of her routine. The health of her animals came first.
Tucker trotted behind Harry. Mrs. Murphy and Pewter stayed in the barn, the excuse being that the mouse population had mushroomed out of control. The reality was that Pewter didn't like cold and Mrs. Murphy wanted a good gossip with Simon, the possum living in the hayloft.
Also living in the hayloft was Flatface, a great horned owl, and Matilda, a huge slumbering blacksnake.
In Pewter's defense, she did perch on the tack trunk in the heated tack room, peering down at the cleverly hidden mouse hole behind the trunk. Her whiskers swept forward in anticipation of seeing a mouse snout appear. So far, the mice, smelling her, elected to stay put.
In the hayloft, Simon, a kleptomaniac, displayed his latest treasure for Mrs.
Excerpted from Sour Puss by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My favorite books to read are those that take you away to a beautiful place you can picture in your mind. They need to be funny, a good plot twist and I don't want to have to figure anything out after I finish reading it. I used these books while I was in the process of quitting smoking. They gave ma a light escape from the world, took my mind off of wanting a cigarette and made me laugh out loud many times in each book. These are simply fun books to read. They are not heavy in thought and no descript violence. I am waiting for the next book to come out in paperback in November. Can't wait! I recommend the entire series, but start at the beginning if you can.
After reading and enjoying the first 13 books in the Mrs. Murphy series, I must say #14 is a real disappointment! Most of the characters didn't even have the same 'personality' that we have come to know. Terrorists, chemical warfare, grapes and their diseases it read like she published her research papers. It really didn't have her style of writing. If some one else wrote it, they should have asked for a little more help from 'Sneaky Pie'!!!
Not very interesting. Weak voice characterization in the audio version with little help from the text made it hard to follow. The author gives us a lot of information about grapes and horses, but integrates it poorly with the story.
My father has a long held belief that most writers only have six books in them that will be any good, not that they have to all be in a row, but in general any author that is too prolific , while Ms.Brown & Sneaky Pie haven¿t gotten close to this list (they have written 13 to date) I was a bit let down by this latest installment. It took too much of its time bringing newbies up to speed on the cast of characters/back story, but it redeemed itself with its scientific plot (although it did get a weebit preachy at times). Unfortunately it felt as if I had read it all before¿Hopefully the next book (which surely there will be) will be back to her/their old style & pacing.
What a shame. The author had all the right ingredients for a terrific book with wonderful, familiar characters, and a neat murder mystery... but then she started vomiting up every bit of information she googled on bio terrorism. Seriously, everything she could find. Every character had to spew out facts about anthrax, or weaponized bugs, even global warming had to be discussed ad nauseum. I get it lady, you looked stuff up. Now shut up about it, and tell your story
I'm a big fan of Mrs. Murphy and Rita and this book didn't disappoint me!
There was the potential for a good story here, but between all the bioterrorism talk & the usual brand-name-dropping (I hope Brown gets paid extra for it at least), this book was more headache than entertainment.
I thought it was just me until I ready the other reviews. This book is extremely boring. Ms. Brown seems enthralled with Patricia Kluge (a very real person) to the point she obviously wrote the book entirely for her and not the reader. The book was all about snobbery and very little to do with the characters we all have come to know and like.This book seemed to have its own agenda. I hope she gets back on track in the next one.
It's aboout time Harry and Fair remarried.I most say I had a feeling(he)was the one who killed them but I didn't think(he)would try to frame Fair and try to kill Harry.
I looked forward to the latest book but once started it I was very disappointed. The foul language and the topic of bioterroism went on and on. I hear enough of both on TV and in the movies, I don't want to read it in one of my favorite series of books.