Book Reviews: Nine Lives to Die by Rita Mae Brown and An Intimate Murder by Stacy Verdick Case

Nine Lives to DieNine Lives to Die
A Mrs. Murphy Mystery
Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
Illustrated by Michael Gellatly
Bantam Books, June 2014
ISBN 978-0-345-53050-9

From the publisher—

Winter has come to Crozet, Virginia, bringing with it a fresh blanket of snow. Harry and her husband, Fair, are hip deep in their usual end-of-the-year activities: distributing food to needy residents, and shopping for outfits for the Silver Linings youth organization’s annual fundraising gala. But buried beneath the white stuff are dark secrets from Crozet’s past—and Harry and her posse of pet detectives are determined to sniff them out.
Two Silver Linings mentors have been found dead in suspicious circumstances. If that weren’t enough to chill the bones of the locals, a pair of severed human fingers has turned up in a pencil jar in the bookkeeper’s office at St. Cyril’s church. What does this grisly display have to do with the mysterious disappearance of Harry’s voluptuous high school Latin teacher, a quarter of a century ago? Maybe nothing. But when the animals make another gruesome discovery in the woods behind Harry’s farm, it becomes clear that terrible crimes have been committed in Crozet—and somebody’s gone to great lengths to cover them up. It’s time to stop shoveling snow and start digging for clues.
The truth will be revealed. A cold case will be solved. And a twenty-five-year-old love triangle is about to get untangled. The weather outside may be frightful, but Harry and her four-legged friends refuse to be spooked off the case.

It’s hard to believe this series has been going on for so long but, indeed, it has—this is the twenty-second adventure for Harry and her four-footed pals and I still think spending a few hours with this crew is just about the most comforting and entertaining way to indulge my fancy for a cozy mystery. I’m a reader who generally prefers edgier crime fiction but sometimes I need a break from the dark stuff and Rita Mae Brown always delivers or almost always. There have been a few books that I felt were written as a means of sharing an agenda but Nine Lives to Die is back on track. (There is one unexplained oddity when Harry is referred to as “Harriet” which is not her name.)

Harry and the rest of her rural locality are appealing people (other than the ones who will turn out to be the bad guys) and, after all these years, I consider them friends. Harry and Fair are a couple I wish were in my life for real and the rest of the town denizens always give me a sense of coming home after a time away. I especially like the faith they have in each other and in a higher power and the way they come together as a community to solve problems.

In this case, modern-day murder and some years-old questions become entwined, beginning with what appears at first blush to be a fatal car accident.  Missing fingers are one of the first clues that foul play might have occurred. Not long after, Harry’s pets find a great Christmas present for Mom even if it was originally on a human arm bone. Does the rest of this skeleton have anything to do with current events?

A cast of characters makes it easy to keep all these folks—and a bunch of critters—straight but it is a couple of cats and a dog who are the real stars of the show. Mrs. Murphy, Pewter and Tee Tucker all have one common goal: keep Mom (Harry) from getting herself into too much trouble. Their conversations with each other and other creatures as they track down clues are a lot of fun and, no, I have no problem with talking animals, whether they talk to humans or only to each other. This is fiction, folks, and we’re allowed to have fun with it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.


An Intimate MurderAn Intimate Murder
Stacy Verdick Case
Before the Fall Books, October 2014
ISBN 978-0-9837137-6-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Jonathan and Susan Luther are murder in their home, St. Paul homicide detective Catherine O’Brien and her partner Louise discover this isn’t the first time the Luther family has been visited by tragedy.  Is it a case of bad family luck or is there something more?

Having a reporter tag along as you investigate a murder is not any detective’s dream but that’s precisely what happens when Detective Catherine O’Brien mouths off about the media and her punishment is to have Jane Katts along for the ride. It’s even more aggravating when it becomes apparent that Jane has little interest in portraying how the police do their jobs.

Catherine is the kind of detective you’d want on the case should you ever find yourself involved in a murder. She’s determined to root out the truth but she’s not one to believe the ends justify the means; she’ll get the job done honestly and with good oldfashioned hard work. Her friendship with Louise Montgomery is what makes their partnership so successful and, like many partnerships, their differences solidify their compatibility and mutual trust.

Getting to the truth of the Luthers’ murders is a complex and tangled mystery and could easily turn totally dark and depressing but Catherine’s brand of humor adds a dimension that not only helps protect the sanity of cops doing a tough job but also keeps this particular tale a bit more engaging than the usual police procedural and the twists and turns kept me guessing. I really like these women and will be going back to read the first two books as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.


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