Random House/Bantam Books, 2013; 235 pages
Autumn has descended and crops are being harvested all over Crozet, Virginia, ideal conditions for a scenic drive for Harry and husband Fair. Bucolic views are all well and good, but Harry’s nose for trouble leads her straight to a cornfield’s macabre scarecrow — an all too real murder victim that frightens all but the noisy crows.
This accountant’s gruesome death is only the first of many disturbing events in this normally pastoral corner of the world. While Harry tends her beloved grapes and sunflowers, a killer edges closer — as does Harry’s protective menagerie of animals.
I always look forward to a new Mrs. Murphy mystery (this is number 21 in the series) — I've read several of them over the years, and always enjoy them. I love that they're set in Virginia, where I used to live. And I love all of the interaction among the various critters: Mrs. Murphy, for those who aren't familiar with the books, is a cat (the companion of the series' main human character, Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen) and she has many animal friends who show up to help solve the mysteries.
Of course, Rita Mae Brown (or maybe it's Sneaky Pie?) does have a tendency to be a bit preachy when she gets onto any subject she obviously cares about. I can usually overlook that quirk because the stories are good enough to make up for it, but this time that just didn't work. I had trouble sticking with this one, and found myself rushing through large chunks to get to the end — which is never a good sign. The plot and most of the characters seemed sketchy and not very memorable. (Maybe I'd remember them a little better if I hadn't done so much skimming.) Very unusual for this series which generally abounds in intriguing characters and interesting plot twists. But in this one, I thought even the non-human characters seemed pretty tedious. It wasn't a terrible reading experience, but it didn't come up to the level of other books I've read in the series. On the other hand, the illustrations by Michael Gellatly were some of the best yet. (I really wish more books for adults had pictures!)
So, I guess I have to say I was disappointed with the book, although I still love Mrs. Murphy and I'm hoping for better things in the next installment. But if you're thinking of giving the series a try (and you should), definitely start with one of the earlier novels.
I received my copy of this book free of charge from the publisher, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received, and the opinions expressed here are all my own.