The Daily Bongo

Cat's Eyewitness

My favorite type of mystery book would fall under the genre of cozy. A cozy is basically a mytery book that isn't very graphic in its language, violence or sexual content. The detective is usually an amateur who is somehow drawn into solving a murder that takes place wherever the sleuth happens to be (it could be his workplace, vacation spot, family home--you get the idea) or a friend or family member is accused of murder. When you read a cozy, you know that the sleuth is a real person, just like you, who happens to stumble into a crime. The regularity with which said stumbling happens can make your head spin. The police force usually employees a bunch of dolts who jump to the wrong conclusion, and have to be led to the right solution by our intrepid sleuth. Usually the sleuth lives in a small hometown, where everyone knows everyone else. Yet with each year, there's a new book where two to three of the townspeople wind up getting murdered with another said townsperson being the murderer. You wonder who will be left in the end, and which town this actually is because you don't want to live there because of the high murder rate.

Rita Mae Brown writes a series of mysteries that fall in the cozy genre. The books are said to a collarboration between her and her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown. The books feature Harry Harristeen who works in the local post office of Crozet, Virgina and always winds up in the center of activity. She is aided in her sleuthing by her pets: a cat, Mrs. Murphy, and a dog, Tee Tucker. They are later to be joined by another cat, Pewter. The thing that can be off-putting about the books is the fact that the pets are active participants in the mystery and even have bits of dialogue. Talking pets? It's not like they talk to Harry, except in barks and meows. Of course, they play a big hand in helping Harry solve the crime, with Mrs. Murphy being the lead sleuth, hence the title of the series is Mrs. Murphy Mysteries. Ms. Brown's thirteenth Mrs. Murphy mystery, Cat's Eyewitness, was just released at the end of January.

Cat's Eyewitness takes us to the local monastery, Mount Carmel in Crozet, Virginia. Harry's best friend, Susan Tucker, has a great uncle Thomas who is a monk at the monastery. Harry goes to the monastery grounds to contemplate her life. She has quit her job at the post office because she can no longer take her pets to work with her, and her ex-husband, Fair Harristeen, has asked Harry to remarry him. Harry is definitely at a crossroads in her life, and isn't sure what the future brings, or which fork in the road she should take. Susan has gone there to pick up her great uncle for Thanksgiving dinner and to think over the problems that she has been having with her husband who has just been elected to the Virginia State Senate. Susan believes that her husband is cheating on her because she has noticed a distance between them in recent months. Since he will be in Richmond, Susan is sure that some hanky panky will be in the picture. The two friends just happen to run into each other in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary that has been said to cry tears of blood at times of great trouble. In the past, the Virgin Mary cried blood before the starts of World Wars I and II. As Harry and Susan stand in front of the statue, guess what? It starts to cry tears of blood. Susan's great uncle Thomas is later found dead in front of the statue of Mary, supposedly of nature causes. By this time, Harry is on the case, planting seeds of doubt, and the exhumation of Great Uncle Thomas turns up a coffin with three 50 pound bags of dirt. Where is Great Uncle Thomas' body, what happened to him, and why is the statue crying blood? Who else will die before the killer is stopped?

A year ago, I realized that I hadn't read all the Mrs. Murphy mysteries, so I read them all from the first in the series to the last. The books in general were enjoyable with both good mysteries and character development. I have to admit that when I read Cat's Eyewitness I was very disappointed. The first half of the book dwells to the point of exhaustion on the characters going through some form of self analysis, or hashing out analysis with their friends. Then in the second half we get abit of a lukewarm mystery while the majority of the characters from the first half are totally dropped. It's almost as if the book was a patch work job that was thrown together from two separate books. During the majority of the book I have to admit that I fought an overwhelming urge to just skim over the pages while I looked for some mystery. It was the most disappointing book in the series and the weakest in the development of the mystery and murders. If you haven't read any of the Mrs. Murphy books, I would suggest starting with some of the earlier ones, and just skipping over this one, even after you have read the others. I would imagine that there will be a 14th in the series, and I truly hope that one concentrates more on mystery than this one did.

Sunday, March 27, 2005