Instead of a proper second honeymoon, the newly remarried Harry and Fair Haristeen leave cozy Crozet, Virginia, for Shelbyville, Kentucky, site of the famous saddlebred horse show. There they'll visit dear friends Joan Hamilton and Larry Hodge and enjoy a week among some of the finest horses, trainers, and riders in the country.
But soon after they arrive, events veer mysteriously-and murderously-off course. First, Joan's ruby and sapphire horsehead heirloom pin is stolen from her private box at the fairgrounds. Next, a young film star's prize three-gaited mare disappears into thin air. There is no lack of suspects, from hotheaded trainers and jealous rivals to vicious ex-spouses. Then a body is found flagrantly murdered and it's obvious to Harry that someone at Shelbyville is sending a strong message: winning is only secondary-first prize is survival.
As Harry searches for clues, rediscovers life as a married woman, and deals with her upcoming fortieth birthday, her four-legged detective friends are already on the case. But is animal instinct any match for human depravity? Especially with two humans to protect and a killer on the prowl?
The charming 14th Mrs. Murphy mystery (after 2006's Sour Puss) finds ex-postmistress and sometime-detective Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen accompanying her veterinarian husband, Fair, to an equestrian extravaganza in Kentucky. The mishaps begin when Harry's good friend Joan loses a beloved pin--or is the treasured piece of jewelry stolen? Then Jorge, a groom at Joan's farm, is found murdered, a pair of crosses cut into his palm. As if murder's not enough, an aging movie star's horse goes missing, and INS officials show up, hunting illegal aliens. Throughout, Harry's menagerie--cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter as well as corgi Tee Tucker--cleverly sniff out wrongdoing. Though some readers might find the anthropomorphized animals' italicized dialogue a bit much, the novel's tight pacing, combined with intriguing local color, make this mystery a blue-ribbon winner. (Mar.)
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February 27, 2007
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Excerpt from Puss 'N Cahoots by Rita Mae Brown
Long, golden rays raked the rolling hills surrounding Shelbyville, Kentucky, on Wednesday, August 2. At six p.m., the grassy parking lot of the famous fairgrounds accepted a steady stream of spectators. By seven p.m., the lot would be overflowing and the shift to backup parking would begin. A soft breeze carried a hint of moisture from the Ohio River about twenty-five miles west, which separated the state of Kentucky from Indiana. Barn swallows swooped through the air to snare abundant insects, as crows, perched on overhead lines, watched, commenting on everything. Cattle dotted pastures. Butterflies swarmed the horse droppings at the fairgrounds. While butterflies liked flowers and flowering bushes, they also evidenced a strong fondness for manure. Each time a maintenance man dutifully picked up the manure, a cloud of yellow swallowtails, black swallowtails, milk butterflies, and small bright blue butterflies swirled up from their prize. No matter how lowly their feeding habits, it was a beautiful sight.
"If I weren't in this blasted collar, I'd snatch one," Pewter bragged. "Maybe two."
"They are tempting," Mrs. Murphy agreed with the fat gray cat. Mrs. Murphy, a sleek tiger cat, was carried by Harry Haristeen. Pewter was carted by Fair Haristeen, DVM. The cats eagerly awaited the beginning of the first night's competition.
Shelbyville, the second glittering jewel in the Saddlebred world, attracted the best horses in the country. The show commenced a full two weeks before the Kentucky State Fair, the blowout of Saddlebred shows.
The four jewels in the crown were the Lexington Junior League, Shelbyville, the Kentucky State Fair at Louisville, and the Kansas City Royal, the only big show held in late fall, November. All the others were summer shows.
Throughout America, but most especially in Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri, the Saddlebred shows added sparkle to the season and coins to the coffers. Every town bigger than a minute hosted one, no matter how humble. No one ever accused the Shelbyville show of being humble. A grandstand encircled the immaculate show ring oval. Most of the seating area was covered. The south of the lighted ring was anchored by an imposing two-story grandstand, where food was served if one had a ticket for the feast.
The aroma of the ribs tortured Tucker, the corgi, walking between her two humans. She drooled with anticipation. "How long before we eat?"
"I don't know, but I could faint with hunger." Pewter sighed.
"Oh la." Mrs. Murphy thought to say more but realized if she started a fight she would unceremoniously be taken back to their suite at the Best Western hotel.
Harry and Fair paused to watch horses being worked in the practice ring on the east side of the fairgrounds. Booty Pollard, a famous forty-one-year-old trainer with a fully dressed monkey perching on his shoulder, walked next to a junior riding a three-gaited country pleasure horse. The walk, trot, canter horse was one of those wonderful creatures that take care of their young rider. Fortunately for the junior, this mare's three gaits were smooth. They were leaving the ring. Booty turned his head upon hearing another trainer raise his voice.
Charles "Charly" Trackwell, a big-money trainer and a peacock, shouted at a stunning young woman on an equally stunning chestnut three-gaited horse, Queen Esther. Queen Esther was much fancier than the country pleasure horse Booty's junior was riding. Queen Esther's trot just threw the beautiful woman up out of the saddle. Renata DeCarlo had paid two hundred fifty thousand dollars for the mare.