Hiss & Tell

A Mrs. Murphy Mystery

About the Book

When a series of mysterious deaths spoil the Christmas season in Crozet, Virginia, Mary Minor “Harry” Harristeen and her beloved cats and dogs lend the police a helping paw in this exciting holiday mystery from Rita Mae Brown and her feline co-author Sneaky Pie Brown.

“As feline collaborators go, you couldn’t ask for better than Sneaky Pie Brown.”—The New York Times Book Review

Christmas is coming and Harry’s to-do list is a mile long. The days are filled with delivering holiday baskets to neighbors in need, chopping down the perfect tree with her best friend, Susan Tucker, and hunting for that elusive special gift for her beloved husband, Pharamond “Fair” Harristeen. Harry also decides to try her hand at dog showing, enrolling her handsome Irish Wolfhound puppy Pirate in classes to prepare for a future exhibition. Through it all, holiday cheer—and plenty of treats for Pirate—keep spirits high.

But the holidays aren’t cheerful for everyone. Harry’s friend on the police force, Cynthia Cooper, warns that the season can bring an uptick in crime. Her words prove tragically prescient when Harry and Susan discover the dead body of a man by the side of the road, without any clues to his identity. One suspicious death is bad enough, but when Cooper reports that two more bodies have been found, also unidentified, Harry knows trouble is afoot. The autopsies for all three bodies reveal the presence of a deadly drug. Could their deaths have been accidental, or is a devious killer on the prowl?

With help from her feline sidekicks, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, as well as Tee Tucker the corgi and Pirate, Harry vows to find the answers and stop the spate of deaths so that all of Crozet can have a very merry Christmas.
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Hiss & Tell


November 16, 2021


A large clear pitcher, filled with credit cards, suspended in the frozen water, sat in the freezer. The American Express card glittered, the Capitol One card shone winter white with green lettering. Bank of America’s card seemed patriotic with red, white, and blue on the face of it.

Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen tried to ignore the frozen cards but they twinkled in the ice. She paused, looked, grabbed frozen coffee beans, and shut the full-length left-side door of the refrigerator.

“I am not defrosting one card. Not one.”

Her corgi, Tee Tucker, seemed supportive so the lean woman continued, “I have to practice restraint this Christmas. I’m still paying off the drill seeder.”

A farmer, she’d needed a new drill seeder, the old one finally expiring. Cost: $25,000. A wonderful piece of equipment with various size apertures for various seeds, it would make her seeding easier but the price hit her hard.

Pewter, the fat gray cat, had heard this complaining before, during her human’s economizing fits. “She’ll weaken.”

The tiger cat, Mrs. Murphy, advised, “Let’s rub on her leg. She’ll take it as a good sign, we want to help.”

“All right.” Pewter agreed without enthusiasm.

Mrs. Murphy picked Harry’s left leg while Pewter selected the right as Harry was fetching eggs and bacon out of the refrigerator.

“You are such good kitties. Even though I’m trying to tighten up here before Christmas, you know you’ll get buckets of catnip.” She placed the food on the counter as she measured beans for the coffee grinder.

“How about an early example?” Pewter rubbed harder. “I’ve been good.”

“At what?” The corgi raised an eyebrow.

Pewter puffed up. “I rid the farm of vermin. Death to mice, moles, and even snakes. What do you do?”

Tucker stepped out of smacking range, then sassed, “What you do is make deals with the mice in the barn. You have never killed anything and you are afraid of Matilda, the blacksnake.”

Those kitty pupils widened, a hiss followed. “Matilda is a python. Huge. She scares everyone. As to the mice, I do make deals. I neutralize them. Harry hates blood.”

True enough, Matilda was huge. Apart from being an old snake, she had a sense of humor. In the summer months she went out of her way to terrify the gray cat. Currently, she was hibernating in the basement and would awaken late April. The technical term is brumation, but Matilda in her hidden den was blissfully asleep.

Harry put the freshly ground coffee into the top of the pot, hit the button. Then she turned to fry bacon and eggs. She woke up hungry.

The bacon provoked rapt attention.

Pirate, a young Irish wolfhound, now almost fully grown, wanted to put his head on the counter to snatch the bacon. His manners forbade it but what a temptation. He wondered if people could smell the bacon as well as he could. Perhaps not, or they’d eat it all in a gulp.

Tucker sat close by Harry, now in front of the stove. “Do you remember Christmas, Pirate? Last year was your first.”

The gentle fellow replied, “I remember a tree. Big. The house smelled like a forest.”

The cracking of an eggshell captured more attention. Then another frying pan was put on the stove as the eggs began to sizzle, slowly. Into that Harry peeled off strips of bacon, carefully filling the pan, which already released the magical bacon odor.

Pewter repaired to the kitchen, jumped on a chair, waiting. “I bet I get bacon before you all do.”

“Pig,” Tucker snapped.

“With a butt like yours I’d watch what I say, especially to your betters.” Pewter swept her whiskers forward and back, turning her head in disdain.

Watching this at a distance, because Pirate knew how testy the gray cat could be, he asked, “What are credit cards?”

“The handiwork of the Devil.” Mrs. Murphy, now on another kitchen seat, uttered this in the voice of doom.

“Not if she buys us presents,” Pewter announced, waiting impatiently for Harry to sit down.

“Pirate, credit cards mean you can take what you want. You don’t have to start paying for a month. Mother goes overboard, especially at Christmas, so January, February, and March she tries to pay her bills. Upsets her.” Tucker expanded on the reality of credit cards.

Harry carried the plate, put it on the table. Walked back for her coffee and picked up the plate of nothing but bacon, lots of bacon. Her four friends were enthralled.

“Bacon.” Pewter closed her eyes. “If the credit card is the handiwork of the Devil then this is the work of angels.”

They all agreed.

Pirate, trying to understand this bizarre concept, asked as he stared at the food, “Can I get a credit card?”

“Sure.” Pewter delicately put her paw on the table, inching it toward the plate of bacon.

“Bull. Pirate has no credit,” Mrs. Murphy said.

“Neither do half the people who get them.” Tucker laughed. “I don’t see why Pirate can’t get one. Pirate Haristeen. I can see it now on a card.”

‘‘Oh, I am starving. Starving,” the gray cat wailed.

“Over the top, Fatty.” Tucker sniffed.

“You’re lucky I’m on this chair or I’d give you such a smack.”

“Yeah. Yeah,” the small dog responded.

Any dog looked small next to Pirate, who had moved to sit closer to Harry. If it worked for the others it might work for him.

“I don’t know why I do this.” Harry plucked one strip of bacon, tore it in half, giving a half to each cat. She repeated the process for the dogs.

“I love you, love you, love you.” Pewter licked her lips, eyes on Harry.

“Can you buy bacon with a credit card?” Pirate also hoped for more.

“Sure. You can buy anything.” Pewter reached over but did not touch the plate.

“Don’t even think about it,” Harry warned as she, too, ate a piece of bacon.

“Do all humans have cards? If you can buy bacon then I really want one.” The youngster felt deserving of such a wonderful tool.

“Worth a try.” Mrs. Murphy thought, why not?

“I’m famished. I’m perishing. I need more food. Only bacon can save me. Don’t let me die.” Pewter raised her voice.

“What a ham. You don’t need bacon.” Tucker now sat next to Harry’s chair.

“Pewter, calm down.” Harry handed her another bacon strip then realized she had to give one to everyone else.

The bacon plate was diminishing.

“Gimme that.” Pewter hopped on the table to snag Mrs. Murphy’s bacon.

“What is wrong with you?” Harry stood up and pushed the fat gray cat back in the seat as she wisely grabbed the last of the bacon for herself.

The sky lightened but remained sunless. December meant the sun rose later and set earlier. Harry stared outside the kitchen window over the sink as she sipped her coffee. The diminishing light didn’t affect her as it did some people, but she knew she had less time to get outside chores done. Checking the large clock on the wall, an old railroad clock belonging to her late mother and father, she finished her cup.

“If you have more bacon in the fridge, I can help you get it,” Pewter offered.

“Don’t listen to her,” Tucker grumbled.

“Really, if I had a credit card I could buy all the bacon in the world.” Pirate promised this with a smile on his handsome face.

Harry, carrying the plates to the sink, turned on the hot water, set the plates in the sink then reached down to stroke the wolfhound’s prominent mustache.

Pewter immediately hopped on the table to check for any crumbs. No crumb was too small.

Mrs. Murphy instead sat in her chair and watched Harry wash dishes.

Harry, in her mid-forties, kept her figure but then farmwork burned the calories. She looked younger than her years but given vitamins, good dentistry, and modern health practices so many people radiated good health but not always a good body. It always seemed to Harry, though, that farm people remained the strongest, the fittest. She finished the washing, grabbed a towel, and dried the two dishes, her cup and saucer.

“When we go to Coop’s,” Pirate remarked. “She has a machine that washes dishes. Why don’t we?”

“’Cause Mom likes to do things by hand. She tries not to use electricity. She’s real careful about money.” The tiger cat loved Harry, thought her prudent, as she herself was.

“And Coop is a cop. She has no time. So a dishwasher makes sense,” Tucker chimed in.

Mrs. Murphy Series

Feline Fatale
Hiss & Tell
Claws for Alarm
Furmidable Foes
Whiskers in the Dark
Probable Claws
A Hiss Before Dying
Tall Tail
Tail Gait
Nine Lives to Die
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About the Author

Rita Mae Brown
Rita Mae Brown is the bestselling author of the Sneaky Pie Brown series; the Sister Jane series; the Runnymede novels, including Six of One and Cakewalk; A Nose for Justice and Murder Unleashed; Rubyfruit Jungle; In Her Day; and many other books. An Emmy-nominated screenwriter and a poet, Brown lives in Afton, Virginia, and is a Master of Foxhounds and the huntsman.
To inquire about booking Rita Mae Brown for a speaking engagement, please contact the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau at speakers@penguinrandomhouse.com. More by Rita Mae Brown
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