Books by Rita Mae Brown

Released: June 4, 2019

"Franchise fans who aren't enamored of the more recent focus on sport hunting or political philosophy will feel even further alienated."
A present-day killer strikes during the preparations for a veterans' benefit while an 18th-century family attempts to modernize their household routines. Read full book review >
HOMEWARD HOUND by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Nov. 20, 2018

"The mix of well-established characters from previous series entries combined with a focus on the pomp and circumstance of fox hunting may not win many new readers; this is aimed at those in the fox-hunting and adjacent horse-fancying worlds who can appreciate Brown's eye for accurate details throughout."
A fox hunting-focused community's search for a missing energy company head leads to a surprising discovery and further mystery. Read full book review >
PROBABLE CLAWS by Rita Mae Brown
Released: May 29, 2018

"Beautiful illustrations bring the pet personalities to life."
A friend of Virginia postmistress Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen, who anchors this long-running series (A Hiss Before Dying, 2017, etc.), is gunned down by a motorcyclist. Could the reason be tied to 18th-century tales of corruption? Read full book review >
CRAZY LIKE A FOX by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Oct. 31, 2017

"The book begins with a multipaged cast of characters, which includes sections for humans, American foxhounds, horses, foxes (red), foxes (gray), birds, and Sister's house pets and a separate glossary of useful terms. These should help identify potential readers who will enjoy a mild mystery filled with lovingly painted details—while deterring the uninterested."
An older community of Virginians competes with exhaustively detailed descriptions of fox hunting to investigate the mysterious return of one of their own. Read full book review >
Released: May 30, 2017

"This 27th meandering cozy from Brown and her feline co-author (Tall Tail, 2016, etc.) is cluttered with too many characters too sketchily drawn. Loyal fans may be chagrined to see the franchise menagerie reduced to little more than a furry Greek chorus."
Two modern murders with ties to the 18th century excite the interest of a Virginian busybody and her animal friends, though perhaps not many others. Read full book review >
CAKEWALK by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Oct. 18, 2016

"Happy families, alike or not, do not electrifying fiction make."
Southern girls gone mild figure in Brown's nostalgic paean to a town bifurcated by the Mason-Dixon Line. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 22, 2013

"An animal-centric cozy that settles for educating rather than preaching, a nice shift from Brown's recent outings (Sneaky Pie for President, 2012, etc.)."
Murders in a small town leave an armchair detective and her pet family with too few motives, or perhaps too many. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 7, 2012

"Not especially funny as whimsy, no match for Animal Farm as political satire, and a mite overlong, like most speeches. You'll have to go to Sneaky Pie's real-life website,, for the campaign slogan that makes the perfect punch line: 'I can't do any worse.'"
Fortified with the public-service experience he's garnered from solving 21 mysteries among his human companions (The Big Cat Nap, 2012, etc.), Sneaky Pie Brown throws his hat into the presidential ring in a tale with no mystery and very few people. Read full book review >
THE BIG CAT NAP by Rita Mae Brown
Released: April 3, 2012

"Brown (Cat of the Century, 2010, etc.) spins a thin mystery in which top honors go to the author's love for her beloved Virginia countryside and for her animal characters, who as usual steal the show."
A Virginia farmer and her remarkable pets celebrate the 20th anniversary of their first appearance in print with—what else?—yet another case of murder. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 4, 2011

"Fans of Brown's long string of popular series featuring animal sleuths (A Nose for Justice, 2010, etc.) will note that her latest is less mystery than political polemic."
The mortgage crisis meets murder in Reno, Nev. Read full book review >
HISS OF DEATH by Rita Mae Brown
Released: May 3, 2011

"More likely to appeal to fans of sermons and Harry's personal life than to mystery mavens."
The Browns, human and feline (Cat of the Century, 2010, etc.), roll out another rambling tale. Read full book review >
A NOSE FOR JUSTICE by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Sept. 28, 2010

"Brown (Cat of the Century, 2010, etc.) has supplanted sassy cats with clever dogs, producing much the same results: a meandering mystery as much about ideology as anything else."
City dog meets country dog to solve crimes ancient and modern. Read full book review >
CAT OF THE CENTURY by Rita Mae Brown
Released: April 6, 2010

"While many of the human characters seem interchangeable in their combination of down-home folksiness and tribal-elder gravitas, her animals are witty as ever."
Aunt Tally's centennial provides more excitement than anyone bargained for when alumni-association members get up to no good. Read full book review >
SANTA CLAWED by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Nov. 4, 2008

"Brown's legion of pet-smitten fans will no doubt overlook the preachiness of her latest in their eagerness to spend more quality time among her fearless feline and clever canine sleuths."
The holiday spirit takes it on the chin when a series of murders blemish picture-perfect Crozet, Va. Read full book review >
HOUNDED TO DEATH by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Sept. 30, 2008

"Yet another chatty tale of anthropomorphic pets and the beauties of Virginia hunt country (The Tell-tale Horse, 2007, etc.) with more obvious rewards for animal lovers than mystery lovers."
More than foxes are marked for death in and around a central Virginia hunt club. Read full book review >
THE SAND CASTLE by Rita Mae Brown
Released: July 1, 2008

"Not much happens—there's just enough incident for a substantial short story—but Brown has a great ear for the way children argue, and a keen eye for the way their childish arguments shade off into the defining conflicts of a lifetime."
Brown follows the durable Hunsenmeir sisters (Loose Lips, 1999, etc.) to the seashore, where the younger generation carries on the aimless, benign, revelatory quarreling of their midlife elders. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 5, 2008

"While the humans philosophize over the big issues, the pets steal the limelight in a transparent mystery that will still offer pleasure to fans of animal sleuths."
The battle over abortion rights may provide a motive for a rural Virginia murder. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2007

"More than we need to know about the lives of the rich and venal."
Fans will need a scorecard to keep track of a De Millean cast of characters—human, canine, equine, avian—in Brown's latest fox-hunting whodunit (Puss 'n Cahoots, 2007, etc.). Read full book review >
PUSS 'N CAHOOTS by Rita Mae Brown
Released: March 6, 2007

"Not the Browns' best mystery, but fans of the cunning animal sleuths will enjoy their antics and the spot-on descriptions of the horse-show circuit."
Murder at a horse show is catnip for feline sleuths Mrs. Murphy and Pewter and their canine sidekick, Tee Tucker. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 17, 2006

"As fast-paced as the foxhunts Brown clearly loves, with Sister an older version of Harry Haristeen in the popular Mrs. Murphy series (Sour Puss, March 2006, etc.). Though the villain's not hard to find, Brown makes the hunt enjoyable."
The quarry is human when a murderer joins the foxhunt. Read full book review >
SOUR PUSS by Rita Mae Brown
Released: March 7, 2006

"Perhaps too much on the burgeoning wine business, but the delightful banter between the animals is sure to please fans who don't mind watching interesting human characters take a back seat to clever critters."
Rivalries between vintners cause blood to flow like Italian red in the viticulture region near Crozet, Va. Read full book review >
Released: March 4, 2003

"Charming, although as usual (Catch as Cat Can, 2002, etc.), the cats have all the best lines, and a carbo-loading possum gets the tastiest snacks."
Although they don't attend the women's college basketball game with their beloved but (by animal standards) dimwitted owner, Harry Haristeen, the postmistress of Crozet, Virginia, Tucker the soulful-eyed corgi, Pewter the prototypical fat cat, and Mrs. Murphy, feline sleuth extraordinaire, all know exactly what will happen the moment they learn that the game has ended with philandering building contractor H.H. Donaldson dead in the arena parking lot: Harry will soon be wondering (1) how that lethal bump got on his neck without anybody noticing, (2) whom he was having his latest affair with, and (3) whether archrival builder Matthew Crickenberger, pertinacious building inspector Fred Forrest, and Donaldson's long-suffering wife Anne can produce alibis. Of course, despite the help of her best friend Susan and even the complicity of her longtime rival for the affections of Boom Boom, her ex-husband, Harry is slower to ferret out the murder weapon than her pets (or devotees of John Dickson Carr, for that matter), and Mychelle Burns, another building inspector, will die while water drip-drip-drips from the arena ceiling and Tucker, Pewter, and Mrs. Murphy are forced to sink their teeth, claws, and all available paws into an exceptionally avaricious pair of evildoers. Read full book review >
HOTSPUR by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Dec. 1, 2002

"Brown, who would make an excellent color commentator should ESPN decide to televise fox-hunting, continues her insufferable habit of anthropomorphizing birds, felines, dogs, mares, and so on. Just right, as usual, for readers who like this sort of thing."
Resurrecting the gabby hounds, foxes, horses, owls, pussycats, and humans of Charlottesville, Virginia (Outfoxed, 2000, etc.), Brown has them all talking about the latest travail in the sanguinary history of the Jefferson Hunt Club: A morning ride under the auspices of Master of the Hunt, septuagenarian "Sister" Jane Arnold, accidentally unearths a corpse that's been interred for 21 years. Equally upsetting to all is the discovery a short time later of another long-dead corpse. Who killed and hid the high-spirited coquette Nola and the most serious of her beaux, movie-star handsome Guy? Surely it couldn't be work plotted decades ago by a Hunt Club member! Between endless discussions of dog-training, horse-jumping, boot-polishing, and the occasional witty aphorism ("Nobody's worthless. They can always serve as a horrible example"), Brown tosses in the Hapsburg Sapphire dinner ring as a red herring and Nola's sister's whopping inheritance as a motive, and even another body—poor dear Ralph, shot dead in the fog while returning from a hunt—for titillation. But it is up to the indomitable Sister to mount a sting (on horseback, of course) that will corral the guilty just in time for the official opening of the Fall Hunt season. Read full book review >
CATCH AS CAT CAN by Rita Mae Brown
Released: March 5, 2002

"Like its forebears (Claws and Effect, 2001, etc.): catnip to some, treacle to others. "
Crozet, Virginia, divided equally between First Families who settled there soon after Pocahontas freed John Smith, weekenders from nearby Washington's diplomatic corps, and pets, livestock, and ferals who archly critique the resident humans, is gearing up for the Dogwood Festival and the Wrecker's Ball. But trouble's a-brewing. Someone has denuded Miranda Hogendobber's 1961 Ford Falcon of its hubcaps; there's a dead pileated woodpecker in the road; and Seth O'Bannon's pushy brother Roger, his partner in the local salvage yard—who keeps asking out snobbish Lottie Pearson, Assistant Director for Major Gifts at the university, and getting stiffed—is soon face down in a teacup, presumably dead of natural causes. Smashingly beautiful BoomBoom Craycroft could care less. She's arranging a blind date for postmistress Harry Haristeen with dishy Uruguayan dignitary Diego Aybar, to the disgust of Harry's ex, six-feet-five veterinarian Fair. While Harry's housemates Tee Tiger the corgi, fat cat Pewter, and brainy sleuth extraordinaire Mrs. Murphy the feline traipse about the countryside observing what fools these mortals be, one man is hanged, another stabbed (with half a million dollars sitting in his safe), and it turns out pushy old Roger was poisoned. The none-too-logical resolution, tying in carjacking, internationalism, and the home-grown avaricious, will make the Wrecker's Ball the most exciting in years. Read full book review >
ALMA MATER by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Nov. 1, 2001

"Sketchy characterization and desultory writing don't exactly fill in the blanks between sex scenes, and the college-lesbian romance seems awfully dated—when not embarrassingly rapturous."
Twosomes and threesomes at an ivy-covered Virginia college, from the author of Rubyfruit Jungle (1983), etc., and the popular Sneaky Pie Brown mystery series. Read full book review >
CLAWS AND EFFECT by Rita Mae Brown
Released: March 6, 2001

Mrs. Murphy, the sleuthing cat who solves the murders of Crozet (Virginia) postmistress Harry Haristeen's less endearing acquaintances, pits her ninth life (Pawing Through the Past, 2000, etc.) against the miscreant who sent out fundraising letters for the hospital threatening divine retribution against skinflints who didn't contribute—and then, just to make sure the recipients got the point, killed the hospital director. Read full book review >
Released: May 9, 2000

"Fun for animal lovers. Sporadically interesting for people more interested in people."
Another visit to Crozet, Virginia (Cat on the Scent, 1999, etc.), and the farm where postmistress Mary Minor ("Harry") Haristeen lives with Welsh Corgi Tee Tucker and cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter. Harry and half the village are agog over preparations for the town's upcoming 20th high-school reunion. Fair Haristeen, Harry's ex, will be there, along with her best friends and even newcomer to town Chris Sharpton. In addition, there's a smaller 40th reunion that's drawn retired army officer Tracy Raz from Florida to rent rooms from Harry and renew an old friendship with Miranda Hogendobber, now Harry's assistant at the post office. Reunion festivities have scarcely begun when the incorrigible womanizer Charlie Ashcroft is found shot to death in the locker room of a nearby country club. Soon after, another alumnus becomes shooting victim number two: Leo Burkey, found in the dumpster behind the Market Shiflet's grocery store. Sheriff Rick Shaw and his deputy Cynthia Cooper have learned that Ashcroft fathered an illegitimate child years ago and that he was HIV positive. But none of their discoveries bring the anonymous notes or the killings to a halt, maybe because they're part of the revenge someone is taking for a savage incident from the past. Only the help of her animal family saves Harry from becoming another victim as the absurd plot winds to its finish. Read full book review >
OUTFOXED by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Jan. 1, 2000

Some of the people are wise, some foolish, some murderous. Ditto the animals—and not since Anthony Trollope has foxhunting been so vividly novelized. In Charlottesville, beautiful, elegant "Sister" Jane Arnold is the longtime Master of the Jefferson Hunt. As unabashed a nature-and-animal—lover as her author (Loose Lips, p. 646, etc.), she adores the job, but these days she's less than her usual sanguine self. Maybe it's because a young black vixen has been spotted on her farm, and, as everybody knows, "[e]verything happens in the black fox years." Or maybe it's because the matter of succession has been much on her mind. Sister is 70-plus and regarded as imperishable, though she well knows she isn't. So who among the Hunt membership is best qualified to take the reins when she must relinquish them? Fontaine Buruss, an excellent rider, Virginia-born and -bred, is one candidate: flawed, naturally, yet Sister has known him and his flaws all his life. Some in Charlottesville view his major rival, Crawford Howard, as the quintessential Yankee carpetbagger, but he's been generous with his money whenever the Hunt has needed it, which is often. Each hungers for the chance to put MFH (Master of Foxhounds) after his name, and each hates the other cordially. Before Sister can choose between them, however, the "black fox" prophecy is fulfilled. An extraordinarily brilliant Thanksgiving Day hunt ends in tragedy when Buruss winds up with a bullet in his chest. Although the leading suspect is Howard, of course, Sister knows there are others who might have wanted to pull that trigger. Cleverly enough to earn approval from Uncle Yancy, Target, Inky, et al., she isolates the one who actually did it. "Sister thinks like us," the foxy establishment agrees. Original, funny, poignant, irresistible: Brown's best work in years. (Author tour) Read full book review >
LOOSE LIPS by Rita Mae Brown
Released: July 13, 1999

Brown brings back the wacky Hunsenmeir sisters attended by all the good and not-so-good folk of Runnymede (Six of One, 1978; Bingo, 1988), as middle age and war give a new edge to their chronic if overhyped sibling rivalry. Runnymede, straddling the Mason-Dixon line, is one of those fictional towns full of people who gossip and bicker but whose hearts are mostly kind. There are, however, a few exceptions: the unforgiving Josephine Smith, Juts's mother-in-law, and the treacherous Rife brothers—after Pearl Harbor, they try to blame a fire they set on the town's only Japanese-American. When the story opens in April 1941, Louise (Wheezer), devout and prissy, is approaching her 40th birthday and doesn't want to admit it; she's also worried about her adolescent daughter Mary. Now 36, younger sister Juts (Julia), a free-spirited rule-breaker, wants a baby, but the problem may be husband Chessy's infertility. As the years whirl by, the sisters face the return of their long-gone father, Chessy's affair, and Mary's teenage pregnancy. They also add their own colorful contribution to everything from church, where Juts's cat destroys the altar flowers on Easter, to the war effort. On duty one night as CivilAir Patrol volunteers, they sound the siren after seeing geese flying overhead, claiming they saw German Stukas. And when Juts mentions Wheezer's age at Cadwalder's soda fountain, the sisters get into such a fight that they have to open a beauty salon (The Curl "n" Twirl) to pay for the damage they cause. Chessy and Juts eventually adopt Nicole, the daughter of a young woman who went to Washington to work and became pregnant. By 1950 the two sisters feel a lot older, not much wiser but still determined to keep fighting—mostly life, yet often each other. Vivid characters and strong women. The frequent one-liners often seem more sitcom than novel material, going nowhere and telling less, but there are still good laughs along the way. Read full book review >
CAT ON THE SCENT by Rita Mae Brown
Released: March 9, 1999

Once again, parvenus are tainting the patrician neighborhood of Crozet, Virginia, not because they're running down property values—on the contrary, they're doing everything they can to drive them up—but because they're piling scandal on murderous scandal. Sir H. (for Henry) Vane-Tempest, following multiple cuckoldings and a public argument with his former creature, arch-preservationist county commissioner Archie Ingram, is shot on the battlefield of a Civil War reenactment. Bad-boy flier Tommy Van Allen has already disappeared after walking away from the plane he and a companion set down in Tally Urquhart's airfield and stashed in her barn; subsequent investigations indicate that Tommy didn't walk very far at all. And there are hints of underhanded land deals, drug selling, wholesale adultery, and even a secret crime long buried by history. It looks like a job for postmistress Harry Haristeen's tiger cat, Mrs. Murphy, and her corgi, Tee Tucker. Together with fat gray cat Pewter, on extended loan from shopkeeper Market Shiflett, they lead Harry to Tommy's hidden airplane, recover the bullets Vane-Tempest was shot with, and get to the bottom of the land grab, though not soon enough to prevent still more casualties and an unusually untidy solution. The scattershot mystery aside, human frailty is balanced against animal wisdom with the same puckish humor as in Mrs. Murphy's first six cases (Murder on the Prowl, 1998, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: April 13, 1998

Crozet (Va.) postmistress Harry Haristeen and her cat, Mrs. Murphy (Murder, She Meowed, 1996, etc.), share detecting honors for the sixth time in the case of a killer whose victims have to die twice - first in bogus obituaries submitted to the local newspaper, then on more emphatic, but equally cozy terms. (Author tour)Read full book review >
RITA WILL by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Oct. 6, 1997

A novelist's autobiography shows that truth is not always as much fun as fiction. Rita Mae Brown—one of the first openly gay celebrities in America, as well as one of the founders of the Second Wave women's movement—has had a life worth writing. She has produced numerous popular novels and screenplays, and had lovers as famous and difficult as herself—Martina Navratilova, Fannie Flagg, and Judy Nelson. Given away at birth by her teenage mother, she was raised by relatives; her adoptive mother was the ``Juts'' made famous in Brown's novels. Juts comes alive in this memoir, too, as does her impossible sister, Aunt Mimi. The book offers a touching evocation of a southern tomboy's childhood, as well as unsparing descriptions of early feminism and of the peculiar burdens of gay celebrity. Rita Will has witty and absorbing moments, but much of it is morally and politically preachy: She's against secrecy, homophobia, big government, sexism, and racism. Readers won't be especially surprised by these positions, and most would probably rather hear about her life. The narrative is interrupted constantly by her gushing gratitude to people who have helped her out in times of need. And as we might expect from a writer who has coauthored numerous titles with her cat, Brown packs her memoir with sentimentality about the animals in her life. This volume would be better if it were much shorter; it's dangerous when egoists write memoirs. They assume that every experience is interesting, simply because it's theirs. Worth reading, especially for Brown's numerous fans. But for the better-than-truth version, and to spend time with someone more likable than the real Brown, go back to Rubyfruit Jungle, the only-slightly-autobiographical novel that made her famous. (Author tour) Read full book review >
MURDER, SHE MEOWED by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Dec. 1, 1996

Yet another visit to Crozet, Virginia, where postmistress/horsewoman Mary Minor Haristeen (``Harry'') lives with her cat, Mrs. Murphy, and a corgi named Tucker—talkative sleuths both (Pay Dirt, 1995, etc.). On this weekend Crozet's horsey set is headed for the annual Montpelier Steeplechase—Harry; her ex- husband Fair, the Steeplechase vet; Chark Valiant and his sister Addie, working now for wealthy Mim Sanburne's stable but due soon to inherit a fortune from their mother Marylou, who vanished five years ago and is presumed dead. The Valiants' lawyer Arthur Tetrick, once Marylou's suitor, is there, too, along with stable- owner Mickey Townsend. Jockey Nigel Danforth, Addie Valiant's steady date, to her brother's dismay, has a mid-race fracas with jockey Linda Forloines, who, with trainer husband Will, had been hired from the Sanburne stable and is now heavily into drug dealing. All of Crozet society is partying at the Sanburnes' house after the races when Nigel Danforth is found in the barn stabbed to death, a playing card placed on his chest. Days later, jockey Coty Lamont suffers the same fate—autopsies showing drugs in both victims. There's more—much more—as the animal kingdom, including a colony of barn mice, discusses the murders and reaches its own conclusions while Sheriff Rick Shaw, Deputy Cynthia Cooper, and Harry plod on to the perfunctory finale. Cheerful and chatty but ultimately cloying—stuffed with more than you may want to know about horses, racetracks, and the mind- sets of cats and dogs. The author's loyal admirers will no doubt love every minute of this fifth in the series. (Author tour) Read full book review >
RIDING SHOTGUN by Rita Mae Brown
Released: April 1, 1996

The prolific Brown (Pay Dirt, 1995, etc.) takes a high-risk plot device—time travel—and attempts to meld it with reincarnation, romance, and contemporary satire. The result: some interesting characters, more than a few laugh-out-loud lines, and a story that in the end sinks under the weight of its impossible plot. Pryor Deyhle Blackwood, nicknamed ``Cig'' (we're not told why: cigarettes? cygnet?), is a young widow struggling with a mortgage, two adolescents, a floundering career in real estate, and bad memories of her now-dead husband's philandering. Cig has one great joy, however—foxhunting, an enthusiasm obviously shared by the author (the hunting scenes that pepper the novel are full of dash and clamor). Caught up in her emotional funk, Cig allows a magic fox to lead her through time to 1699, where she takes the place of her ancestral namesake, Pryor Deyhle, on a colonial Virginia plantation. There, she must quickly learn to adapt and survive—as Cig handles with equal aplomb Indian raiders, blizzards, colonial dowagers, and the lack of modern conveniences. She quickly finds an ally in Margaret, her colonial sister-in-law and soulmate, whose attitudes, while leavened with 17th-century spirituality, are more modern than many a 20th-century woman's. Cig also encounters Lionel deVries, the colonial incarnation of her husband, who is just as compelling in this life as he was in the 20th century. But in 1699 Lionel has a rival for Cig's affections, and Cig's recognition that she can claim her own path toward true love and happiness is what gives her the strength to prevail in her own time. Brown's meticulously researched descriptions of Virginia's colonial life, as well as her dead-on ridicule of modern-day bad behavior, bring vigor to a tale that's otherwise not a coherent whole. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 15, 1995

Ash Lawn is the Virginia home of James Madison and his wife Elizabeth, but although several of the characters work at the home as docents, there's nothing presidential about this gossipy sequel to Murder at Monticello (1994). Instead, the apple of discord in sleepy Crozet (pop. 1,733) is LA biker Michael Huckstep, who roars into town looking for a young woman named Malibu—and then is incontinently shot. The benighted denizens of Crozet—postmistress Harry Haristeen, her buddies Susan Tucker and Miranda Hogendobber, and the other regulars—train their practiced tongues on a computer virus that throws the Crozet National Bank into panic via a $2 million shortfall, and on bland bank executive Norman Cramer's inability to decide between Kerry McCray, his former fiancÇe, and Aysha Gill Cramer, his new wife. And the police simply batten on Kerry, especially when she's found clutching the murder weapon at the site of a second homicide. So it's up to Harry's tiger cat, along with Mrs. Murphy and her corgi, Tee Tucker, not only to help clear Kerry but to apprehend the real killer. Mrs. Murphy's fourth caper will be lapped up like half-and- half by the faithful. Since only the animals have anything on the ball, though, new readers might want to skip the bits in which humans appear. Ten pen-and-ink drawings, with nary a human face. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 15, 1994

Old sins indeed—a murdered corpse is discovered buried beneath the slave quarters on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson's storied home. Who is the mystery man wearing a gold ring and carrying $50, the newest coin dated 1803, in his pocket? And what was such a well-to-do victim doing in the slave quarters in the first place? Local gossips Mary Minor (Harry) Haristeen, Miranda Hogendobber, and Susan Tucker are aided and abetted in their juicy, harmless speculations not only by the parallel lucubrations of Harry's pets, Mrs. Murphy (feline) and Tee Tucker (canine), but by Monticello archaeologist Kimball Haynes's enthusiastic researches into Jefferson's family tree. But then Kimball himself is killed, and the variously chastened survivors, from Mim Sanburne, the mayor's fearsome helpmeet, to Samson Coles, the realtor who covets his neighbor's wife, begin to wonder how his murder could be connected to the two-centuries-old crime—or to another homicide a mere 45 years past. The arch menagerie created by Brown and her purring coauthor (Rest in Pieces, 1992, etc.) offers an obvious bonus for cat lovers—who will especially welcome the dozen pen-and-ink drawings of the higher species—but her historical reconstruction, though never exactly compelling, is clever and conscientious enough to tide even ailurophobes over the rough bits. Read full book review >
DOLLEY by Rita Mae Brown
Released: May 20, 1994

This pallid historical novel explores Dolley Madison's tenure as first lady, focusing in particular on the year 1814 and conflict with the British. Brown (Venus Envy, 1993, etc.) brings little of her characteristic humor to the tale, making Madison a virtuous bore. Third-person accounts of dinner parties and cabinet meetings are interspersed with selections from Madison's fictional diary, but it all seems geared more to relating historical facts than to entertaining. While a list of characters and short descriptions of their roles precedes the text, Brown finds it necessary to explicate further whenever anyone is introduced, and there are endless passages about Madison's insight into politics and her amazing social skills. Her love for her husband is true and steady, adding little spice to the story; even when certain newspapers accuse the first lady of sleeping around, her husband never doubts her. Madison's involvement in the lives of her slaves is interesting but handled too primly. Sukey, Madison's personal servant, is promiscuous and rebellious (claiming that she will never marry, she says, ``I'm not being the slave of a slave''), but the other people toiling under her command are faithful and adoring. One even insists that were he to be freed, he would remain with her. Some of Madison's recollections about her Quaker upbringing and her growing obsession with shooting craps are intriguing, but they are rarely integral to the proceedings. For those interested in the gossipy side of history there are tidbits like the rumor that John Randolph may have had shrunken genitals or that Louis Serurier, minister from France, and his wife, Lisel, had ``a European marriage at its best,'' meaning that they were free to have affairs. Ultimately, however, nothing much happens in Madison's life. A war rages, but there is little forward motion in her retelling of daily events. Unusually prudish work sabotaged by the author's admiration for her subject. (Literary Guild alternate selection) Read full book review >
VENUS ENVY by Rita Mae Brown
Released: April 15, 1993

More frothy fun from the queen of southern sexual farce—this featuring a former debutante who comes out of the closet in gossipy, backstabbing Virginia. ``Dying's not so bad. At least I won't have to answer the telephone,'' remarks 35-year-old Mary Frazier Armstrong, who's lying in the hospital with a terminal case of lung cancer. A stressed-out art-gallery owner with brilliant business instincts and drop-dead looks, the well-born Virginian cares more about dying than she'll admit to others and—on what she believes to be her final night—scribbles half a dozen heartfelt messages to her nearest and, in some cases, dearest. The next morning Frazier learns that her diagnosis resulted from a computer error and that she suffers only from bronchitis—but the letters, in which she finally informed her loved ones that she was gay—have already gone to the post office and can't be retrieved. Happy to be alive but dreading the nasty backlash sure to come, Frazier has no choice but to brace herself for the catty remarks, social snubs, tears, and general lambasting that inevitably do come her way. Only Frazier's eccentric aunt, her stoic father, her loyal assistant, a bisexual friend, and, when not in his cups, her layabout brother stand up for Frazier while society's vultures circle to rip her to shreds. But Frazier's a survivor—and when the pressure grows too great, she simply escapes via a fantasy visit into a painting of Mount Olympus, to sport with the ancient, wiser goddesses and gods. Brown's story drapes thinly across a tiresome string of platitudes (``You are as sick as you are secret,'' ``Normal is the average of deviance,'' ``Death is like a punctuation mark, a period at the end of a sentence,'' etc.), but her sexual frankness and flippant humor are as refreshing as always. (First printing of 75,000) Read full book review >
REST IN PIECES by Rita Mae Brown
Released: Aug. 17, 1992

Second in Brown's ``Mrs. Murphy'' mystery series. The liveliness evident in Brown's earlier novels (Rubyfruit Jungle, Southern Discomfort, etc.) ripples on in the twit and josh among old acquaintances in the small hunt-club-Waspy town of Crozet, Virginia, but readers will need a twin tolerance: animals that talk amongst themselves, and grue piled higher and deeper as a corpse is discovered—first a hand, then more until the full corpse doth appear in—aargh!—a Halloween pumpkin. As in Wish You Were Here (1990), Harry—a 30-ish postmistress and horsewoman—leads the way in puzzling over the murders of an unknown vagrant and then a bank manager, amid mailed threats, a lost earring, and gossip about a handsome new neighbor. The animals—Mrs. Murphy the cat, Tucker the dog, Simon the possum, etc.—talk things over and save ``Mom's'' life, too. Animal-lovers know better, but will probably be hooked in anyway. An adequate mystery, with plenty of jolly chat. Read full book review >