Claws and Effect

A Mrs. Murphy Mystery
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CLAWS AND EFFECT

Winter puts tiny Crozet, Virginia, in a deep freeze and everyone seems to be suffering from the winter blahs, including postmistress Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen. So all are ripe for the juicy gossip coming out of Crozet Hospital–until the main source of that gossip turns up dead. It’s not like Harry to resist a mystery, and she soon finds the hospital a hotbed of ego, jealousy, and illicit love.

But it’s tiger cat Mrs. Murphy, roaming the netherworld of Crozet Hospital, who sniffs out a secret that dates back to the Underground Railroad. Then Harry is attacked and a doctor is executed in cold blood.

Soon only a quick-witted cat and her animal pals feline Pewter and corgi Tee Tucker stand between Harry and a coldly calculating killer with a prescription for murder.

From the Paperback edition.

Praise

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

“Mrs. Murphy is [a] cat who detects her way into our hearts.”—San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

From the Paperback edition.

Excerpt

"People tell me things. Of course, I have a kind face and I'm a good listener, but the real reason they tell me things is they think I can't repeat their secrets. They couldn't be more wrong."

"People tell me secrets." The corgi looked up at Mrs. Murphy, the tiger cat, reposing on the windowsill at the post office.

"You're delusional. Dogs blab." She nonchalantly flipped the end of her tail.

"You just said people think you can't repeat their secrets but they're wrong. So you blab, too."

"No, I don't. I can tell if I want to, that's all I'm saying."

Tucker sat up, shook her head, and walked closer to the windowsill. "Well, got any secrets?"

"No, it's been a dull stretch." She sighed. "Even Pewter hasn't dug up any dirt."

"I resent that." A little voice piped up from the bottom of a canvas mail cart.

"Wait until Miranda finds out what you've done to her garden. She hasn't a tulip bulb left, Pewter, and all because you thought there was a mole in there last week."

"Her tulips were diseased. I've saved her a great deal of trouble." She paused a moment. "And I was careful enough to pull mulch over the hole. She won't find out for another month or two. Who knows when spring will come?"

"I don't know about spring but here comes Mim the Magnificent." Tucker, on her hind legs, peered out the front window.

Mim Sanburne, the town's leading and richest citizen, closed the door of her Bentley Turbo, stepping gingerly onto the cleared walkway to the post office because ice covered much of central Virginia.

Odd that Mim would own a Bentley for she was a true Virginian, born and bred, plus her family had been in the state since the early 1600s. Driving anything as flashy as a Bentley was beyond the pale. The only thing worse would be to drive a Rolls Royce. And Mim didn't flaunt her wealth. Miranda, who had known Mim all of her life, figured this was a quiet rebellion on her friend's part. As they both cruised into their sixties, not that they were advertising, this was Mim's salvo to youth: Get Out Of My Way.

People did.

Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen smiled when Mim pushed open the door. "Good morning."

"Good morning, Harry. Did you have trouble driving in today?"

"Once I rolled down the driveway I was fine. The roads are clear."

"You didn't ask me if I had trouble." Miranda walked up to the counter dividing the post office staff from the public. As she lived immediately behind the post office, with just an alleyway in between, she slipped and slid as she made her way to work on foot.

"You haven't broken anything so I know you're fine." Mim leaned on the counter. "Gray. Gray. Cold. Hateful."

"Four degrees Fahrenheit last night." Miranda, passionate gardener that she was, kept close watch on the weather. "It must have been colder at Dalmally." She mentioned the name of Mim's estate just outside of town. As some of Mim's ancestors fled to America from Scotland they named their farm Dalmally, a remembrance of heather and home.

"Below zero." Mim strolled over to her postbox, took out her key, the brass lock clicking as she turned the key.

Curious, Mrs. Murphy dropped off the windowsill, jumped onto the wooden counter, then nimbly stepped off the counter onto the ledge that ran behind the postboxes, dividing the upper boxes from the larger, lower boxes. She enjoyed peering in the boxes. If a day dragged on she might reach in, shuffle some mail, or even bite the corners.

Today she noticed that Susan Tucker's mailbox had Cracker Jacks stuck on the bottom of it.

Mim's gloved hand, a luscious, soft turquoise suede, reached into her box. Murphy couldn't help herself; she peered down, then took both paws and grabbed Mim's hand, no claws.

"Mrs. Murphy. Let me have my mail." Mim bent down to see two beautiful green eyes staring back at her.

"Give me your glove. I love the smell of the suede."

"Harry, your cat won't let me go."

Harry walked over, slipped her fingers into the mailbox and disengaged Murphy's paws. "Murphy, not everyone in Crozet thinks you're adorable."

"Thank you!" Pewter's voice rose up from the canvas mail cart.

Harry gently placed her tiger on the counter again. A pretty woman, young and fit, she stroked the cat.

Miranda checked the bookshelves for cartons. "Mim, got a package here for you. Looks like your coffee."

Mim belonged to a coffee club, receiving special beans from various world-famous cafes once a month. "Good." She stood at the counter sorting her mail. She removed one exquisite glove and slit open envelopes with her thumbnail, a habit Harry envied, since her own nails were worn down from farm work. The older, elegant woman opened a white envelope, read a few sentences, then tossed the letter and envelope in the trash. "Another chain letter. I just hate them and I wish there'd be a law against them. They're all pyramid schemes. This one wants you to send five dollars to Crozet Hospital's Indigent Patients Fund and then send out twenty copies of the letter. I just want to know who put my name on the list."

Harry flipped up the divider, walked over to the wastebasket, and fished out the offending letter.

"Sister Sophonisba will bring you good fortune." She scanned the rest of it. "There is no list of names. All it says is to pass this on to twenty other people. 'If you wish.'" Harry's voice filled the room. "Send five dollars to Crozet Hospital's Indigent Patients Fund or your microwave will die."

"It doesn't really say that, does it?" Miranda thought Harry was teasing her but then again ...

"Nah." Harry flashed her crooked grin.

"Very funny." Mim reached for her letter again, which Harry handed to her. "Usually there's a list of names and the top one gets money. You know, your name works its way to the top of the list." She re-read the letter, then guffawed, "Here's the part that always kills me about these things." She read aloud. "Mark Lintel sent five dollars and the Good Lord rewarded him with a promotion at work. Jerry Tinsley threw this letter in the trash and had a car wreck three days later." Mim peered over the letter. "I seem to recall Jerry's wreck. And I seem to recall he was liberally pickled in vodka. If he dies he'll come back as a rancid potato."

Harry laughed. "I guess he has to get rid of that old Camry somehow so he decided to wreck it."

From the Hardcover edition.

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