The annual steeplechase races at Montpelier, once the home of James and Dolley Madison, are the high point in the social calendar of the horse-mad Virginians of cozy Crozet. The race meet offers a cracking good time with old friends and a chance to get even--on the racecourse--with old enemies. Postmistress Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen will be in the thick of the action on this day of high spirits and fierce competition. But the glorious thoroughbreds and the pinks and greens and purples worn by the riders do not blind Harry to the dangerous undercurrents that start to surface. There's sure to be some emotional fireworks at Montpelier. Still, no one expects the day to end in tragedy. Found dead in the main barn is one of the day's riders, a knife plunged through the jockey's heart. The only clue is a playing card, the Queen of Clubs, impaled over the fatal wound. Within the wealthy, tight-knit world of horse owners, trainers, and jockeys, the victim had both admirers and enemies.
It's a day at the races for intrepid gray tiger cat Mrs. Murphy and her friends in the latest collaboration between Brown and feline coauthor Sneaky Pie (Pay Dirt). Competition is fierce at the annual steeplechase at Montpelier, the historic Virginia home of James and Dolley Madison. When a dagger in the heart takes the life of jockey Nigel Danforth, young heiress and horse trainer Adelia Valiant is distraught. Her brother and her guardian, however, can't hide their relief at the death of the man they regarded as a gold digger and who, it turns out, was not who he said he was. As the official investigation focuses on the victim's cocaine habit and his ties to a pair of drug-dealing trainers, another coked-up jockey is murdered and the dealers disappear. Mrs. Murphy and her pals, fat cat Pewter and corgi Tee Tucker, cut to the chase, believing that the recent murders are tied to the disappearance of Addie's mother five years earlier. After learning from a racehorse that the second jockey died after trying to dig up the horse's stall, Mrs. Murphy and friends strike a bargain with a sassy bunch of barn mice: a moratorium on mousing in exchange for information. But getting that information to Mrs. Murphy's owner, Crozet, Va., postmistress "Harry" Haristeen, and the other humans proves difficult people simply don't listen. The animals spring into action to save Harry and bring the miscreant to justice as the Browns once again blend plot, character and atmosphere with plenty of wit and charm to create a delightful entertainment. (Nov.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 03, 1997
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Excerpt from Murder, She Meowed by Rita Mae Brown
The entrance to Montpelier, once the home of James and Dolley Madison, is marked by two ivy-covered pillars. An eagle, wings outstretched, perches atop each pillar. This first Saturday in November, Mary Minor Haristeen--"Harry"--drove through the elegant, understated entrance as she had done for thirty-four years. Her parents had brought her to Montpelier's 2,700 acres in the first year of her life, and she had not missed a race meet since. Like Thanksgiving, her birthday, Christmas, and Easter, the steeplechase races held at the Madisons' estate four miles west of Orange, Virginia, marked her life. A touchstone.
As she rolled past the pillars, she glanced at the eagles but gave them little thought. The eagle is a raptor, a bird of prey, capturing its victims in sharp talons, swooping out of the air with deadly accuracy. Nature divides into victor and victim. Humankind attempts to soften such clarity. It's not that humans don't recognize that there are victors and victims in life, but that they prefer to cast their experiences in such terms as good or evil, not feaster and feast. However she chose to look at it, Harry would remember this crisp, azure day, and what would return to her mind would be the eagles...how she had driven past those sentinels so many times yet missed their significance.
One thing was for sure--neither she nor any of the fifteen thousand spectators would ever forget this particular Montpelier meet.