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New York Times bestselling authors Rita Mae Brown and her feline partner, Sneaky Pie Brown, return with a new mystery starring Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, the sleuthing cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and corgi Tee Tucker. But are they any match for a killer who’s made an entire town suspect by committing...
Autumn has arrived in cozy Crozet, Virginia, and that means the town’s inhabitants are hard at work in home and garden preparing for winter. Harry is planning to harvest her first crop of Petit Manseng grapes along with her beloved sunflowers. Meanwhile, her recent marriage to Fair and her friendship with Deputy Cynthia Cooper, who’s rented nearby Blair Farm, are flourishing. But even when peace descends on the idyllic countryside, murder is lurking.
Mrs. Carla Paulson is one of the diamond-encrusted “come-here” set who has descended on Crozet with plenty of wealth and no feeling for country ways. She’s determined to make her new house the envy of all her well-heeled friends—and enemies—and she’s hired architect Tazio Chappers to build it.
From the start, the project—and Mrs. Paulson—turns into a major headache relieved only by a side trip to study Thomas Jefferson’s extraordinary summer home at Poplar Forest. Harry couldn’t foresee that a day later Mrs. Paulson would be found stabbed to death at a gala fund-raiser with Harry’s friend, Tazio Chappers, standing over her, holding the knife.
Now Harry must solve what seems to everyone else an open-and-shut case. Every other human, that is. For her four-legged friends see it Harry’s way. But will they have to choose between catching the purrfect killer or saving Harry?
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Rita Mae Brown is the bestselling author of several books. An Emmy-nominated screenwriter and poet, she 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 fifteen previous Mrs. Murphy mysteries: Wish You Were Here; Rest in Pieces; Murder at Monticello; Pay Dirt; Murder, She Meowed; Murder on the Prowl; Cat on the Scent; Pawing Through the Past; Claws and Effect; Catch as Cat Can; The Tail of the Tip-Off; Whisker of Evil; Cat’s Eyewitness; Sour Puss; and Puss ’n Cahoots, in addition to Sneaky Pie’s Cookbook for Mystery Lovers.
Morning light, which looked like thin spun gold, reminded Harry Haristeen why she loved September so much. The light softened, the nights grew crisp, while the days remained warm. This Thursday, September 18, there was only a vague tinge of yellow at the top of the willow trees, which would become a cascade of color by mid-October.
The old 1978 Ford F-150 rumbled along the macadam road. The big engine's sound thrilled Harry. If it had a motor in it, she liked it.
Her two cats, Mrs. Murphy, a tiger, and Pewter, a gray cat, along with her corgi, Tee Tucker, also enjoyed the rumble, which often put them to sleep. Today, all sitting on the bench seat, they were wide awake. A trip to town meant treats and visiting other animals, plus one never knew what would happen.
Harry had just turned forty on August 7, and she declared it didn't faze her. Maybe. Maybe not. Fair, her adored husband, threw a big surprise birthday party and she reveled in being the center of attention, even though it was for entering her Middle Ages. She wore the gorgeous horseshoe ring her husband had bought her at the Shelbyville Horse Show. She wasn't much for display or girly things, but every time she looked down at the glitter, she grinned.
"All right, kids, you behave. You hear me? I don't want you jumping on Tazio's blueprints. No knocking erasers on the floor. No chewing the rubber ends of pencils. Tucker." Harry's voice kept the command tone. "Don't you dare steal Brinkley's bones. I mean it."
The three animals cast their eyes at her, those eyes brimming with love and the promise of obedience.
Tazio Chappars, a young architect in Crozet, won large commissions for public buildings, but she also accepted a healthy string of commissions for beautiful, expensive homes, most paid for by non-Virginians. The houses were too flashy for a blue-blood Virginian. However, Tazio, like all of us in this world, needed to make a living, so if the client wanted a marble-clad bathroom as big as most people's garages, so be it.
As Harry parked, she noticed a brand-new Range Rover in the small lot. Painted a burnt orange, she walked over to admire it.
"Good wheels," she muttered to herself.
Good indeed, but the closest dealer was ninety miles away in Richmond, which somewhat dimmed the appeal. If that didn't do it, the price did.
Before she reached the door, a stream of invective assaulted her ears. When she opened the door, the blast hit her.
"Wormwood! I don't care what it costs and I don't care if termites get in it. I want wormwood!" An extremely well cared for woman in her mid-forties shook colored plans in Tazio's face.
"Mrs. Paulson, I understand. But it's going to slow down the library because it takes months to secure it."
"I don't care. You'll do what I tell you."
Tazio, face darkening, said nothing.
Mrs. Paulson spun around on her bright aqua three-hundred-dollar shoes to glare at Harry. Harry's white T-shirt revealed an ample chest, and her jeans hugged a trim body with a healthy tan. Mrs. Paulson paused for a minute because, even though not of Virginia, she had divined that often the richest people or the ones with the oldest blood wore what to her were migrant-labor fashions. Carla Paulson wouldn't be caught dead in a white T-shirt and Wranglers. She couldn't fathom why Harry would appear in public looking like a farmhand.
She knew Harry in passing, so she switched into "lunch lady" mode.
Tazio stepped around her drafting table. "Mrs. Paulson, you remember Harry Haristeen; her mother was a Hepworth. Her father, a Minor." Tazio knew perfectly well that Mrs. Paulson didn't know the bloodlines, but the simple fact that Tazio recited them meant "important person."
Not that Harry gave a damn.
Extending her hand, radiating a smile, the well-groomed woman purred, "Of course, I remember."
Harry politely took her hand, using the exact amount of pressure all those battleaxes at cotillion drilled into her year after year. "I can see you've hired the most talented architect in the state." She paused. "Love your new wheels."
"Isn't the interior beautiful? Just bought it last week." Carla Paulson brightened. She checked her diamond-encrusted Rolex. "Well, I'll call later for another appointment. Oh, before I forget, Michael McElvoy said he'd be out at the site tomorrow at eleven."
Tazio wanted to say she had an appointment then, which she did, but if one of the county building inspectors was going to be at the construction site, then she'd better be there, too. Michael lived to find fault.
"Fine. I'll be there." Tazio smiled and walked Mrs. Paulson to the door, while Mrs. Murphy and Pewter jumped on the high chair and onto the drafting table. Those pink erasers thrilled the cats. Tazio even had special white square ones that squeaked when bitten.
Brinkley, a young yellow lab rescued by Tazio during a snowstorm at a half-completed building site, chewed his bone. Tucker lay down in front of the wonderful creature and put her head on her paws to stare longingly at the bone.
Once Carla Paulson exited, Tazio exhaled loudly.
"Murphy, Pewter, what did I tell you?" Harry warned.
Murphy batted the square white eraser off the table. Both cats sailed after it.
"Don't worry about it. I have a carton full of them back in the supply closet. In fact, I'll give you one." She took another breath. "That woman is plucking my last nerve. I thought Folly Steinhauser was high maintenance and Penny Lattimore a diva, but Carla is in a class by herself."
"I can see that."
Tazio slyly smiled. "The diamond Rolex watch is so over the top."
"Better to wear plain platinum. Worth more and not showy. In fact, most people think it's steel." Harry leaned on the drafting table. "But if Carla owned a platinum Rolex, she'd have to tell everyone it wasn't steel and ruin it, of course."
"Harry," Tazio laughed, "you're so Virginia."
"Oh, look who's talking."
"I'm from St. Louis, remember."
"Doesn't matter. You mentioned that gaudy watch. I didn't."
Tazio was half Italian, half African-American, and all gorgeous. Her family, prominent in St. Louis, had provided her with the best education as well as a great deal of social poise, since her mother was on every committee imaginable. From the time she was small, her mother had marched her to different parties, balls, fund-raisers.
"I'm worn out, because she keeps changing her mind. Well, I'll grant, she's been consistent about the wormwood, but every time she changes something the cost spirals upward. It's not my money, but you move a window an inch and either Orrie"-she named the head of construction by his nickname-"or I have to call the building inspector. Michael McElvoy, as you heard."
Harry started to giggle. "Lucky you."
"Oh, well, everyone has their problems. You came to pick up the numbers on the different heating systems for St. Luke's. Got 'em." She walked back to her large, polished mahogany desk, about ten feet from the drafting table. Picking up a folder, she said, "Here. Digest it, then let's go over it before the next vestry meeting."
Harry flipped open the folder. "Jeez."
"Lots of choices, and each one has pluses and minuses."
"Herb have a copy?" Harry mentioned the pastor of St. Luke's, Rev. Herb Jones.
"I thought we should put our heads together first. Anyway, he's on overload because of the St. Luke's reunion next month."
The reunion would be Saturday, October 25. Each October, St. Luke's held a gathering of all its members. Many who had moved away from central Virginia returned, so the numbers ran to about three hundred.
"Okay. I'll get right on this. Be nice to have this installed before the reunion, just in case the weather does turn cold."
"With luck the old boiler ought to hold out for another month or two. First frost usually hits us mid-October. We'll make it, I hope. You know, that old furnace is cast iron. A welder will need to dismantle it to get it out of there. That will take days. They don't build things like they used to," Tazio said with a big grin.
Harry finally noticed Tucker. "What did I tell you?"
Tazio walked back to the supply room, returning with a dog treat called a Greenies. She handed it to a grateful Tucker. "Made in Missouri."
"Well, then it has to be good." Harry laughed. "Come on, kids."
"I want the eraser." Mrs. Murphy carried the item in her mouth.
Harry had reached down to pluck it from those jaws when Tazio said, "Keep it. Really. I have a carton."
"Thanks. You spoil my buddies."
"You don't?" An eyebrow arched over one green eye.
"Well . . ."
"If you spoiled Fair like you spoil these three, he'd be fat as a tick." Tazio mentioned Harry's husband, who was six five, all muscle.
"You know, I don't think Fair will ever get fat. For one thing, if he doesn't work it off, he'll worry it off."
"He doesn't strike me as a worrier."
"Maybe not in the traditional sense, but he's always thinking about the future, investigating new technology and medications. His mind never stops."
"Neither does yours. That's why you were made for each other."
"Guess so. All right, madam. I'll get back to you." She paused. "Speaking of made for each other, you and Paul seem to be."
Tazio shrugged and blushed.
Harry opened the door and the three happy friends scooted out ahead of...
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