BOOK REVIEW: 'The Big Cat Nap': Bodies Pile Up in Virginia as 'Harry' Haristeen and Her Animal Pals Investigate

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Big Cat Nap': Bodies Pile Up in Virginia as 'Harry' Haristeen and Her Animal Pals Investigate

Calling all motorheads and animal lovers (I'm both): To mark the 20th anniversary of her Mrs. Murphy mystery series Rita Mae Brown -- ably assisted by feline co-author Sneaky Pie Brown -- brings us "The Big Cat Nap" (Bantam Books, 240 pages, illustrated by Michael Gellatly, $26.00) featuring Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen and sleuthing cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter and their canine pal, Welsh corgi Tee Tucker.


Harry discovers the body of mechanic Walt Anderson on a visit to the ReNu Body Shop, owned by Victor Gatzembizi. Walt's head has been bashed in with a tire iron. ReNU is popular because it's a low-cost collision repair business, with multiple shops throughout much of Virginia. It's a favored shop of Latigo Bly's Safe & Sound auto insurance firm. Bly is one of the many eccentric characters -- Charlottesville and vicinity attracts people of that type -- populating the novel.


Certainly Harry Haristeen, a Smith College graduate and former postmistress of Crozet, VA, qualifies, if only she's running the farm she inherited from her parents. She's married to veterinarian Pharamond "Fair" Haristeen. Get used to oddball names, the book is crammed to the rafters with them! How about Miranda Hogendobber, the reason Harry is at ReNu in the first place. Harry was riding in Miranda's Subaru Outback when "an odd pop, then a lurch, made holding the Outback on the road difficult." They ended up in a drainage ditch, unhurt but with a disabled Subaru that, on the instructions of the Safe & Sound people, was towed to ReNu.


Add in a fatal highway accident involving a young woman and the Very Reverend Herbert Jones’s Chevy pick-up, recently serviced at ReNu, going kaput, and Harry's nosiness, which her animals deplore, ratchets up a notch. Rev. Jones has three cats in his parsonage at St. Luke's: Elocution, Cazenovia and Lucy Fur, charmingly displayed on a sofa by artist Gellatly, a man who knows his cats and draws accordingly. The illustrations add much to this delightful book.


Rita Mae Brown
Rita Mae Brown

Harry's good friend Franny Howard, who runs a tire outlet, suffers a loss estimated at $20,000 in high-end tires. Is there is connection with the goings on at ReNu, where two more mechanics are murdered?


Stubborn Harry, ignoring many warnings from her friends, human and otherwise, rushes headlong into an investigation. Harry’s race to the truth leads straight to powerful forces determined to avoid scrutiny at any cost — even if it means trying to run her off the road, literally.


To say more would be a spoiler, so I won't. If you haven't read any of the Mrs. Murphy mystery novels, you're in for a treat (mixed grill, anyone?) If you have, you'll find that Sneaky Pie Brown and her human are up to their usual high writing standards.


A bonus: "The Big Cat Nap" has subtle messages -- and some not so subtle -- about a variety of today's social issues, from organic foods to lack of governmental oversight in product liability and quality.


About the authors


Rita Mae Brown, born in 1944 just a few miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line in southern Pennsylvania, is a best-selling author and Emmy-nominated screenwriter and poet. She lives in Afton, VA, 20 miles west of Charlottesville, with her co-author, Sneaky Pie Brown, a tiger cat born somewhere in Albemarle County, VA and was discovered by Rita Mae Brown at her local SPCA. The have collaborated on 19 previous mysteries. This summer, leading into election season, Sneaky Pie will take America by storm with "Sneaky Pie for President."


Rita Mae Brown's website:

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