Title: Probable Claws (Mrs. Murphy #27)
Author: Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown
Category: Adult Mystery
Publisher/Date: Bantam/29 May 2018
With the New Year just around the corner, winter has transformed the cozy Blue Ridge Mountain community of Crozet, Virginia, into a living snow globe. It’s the perfect setting for Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen to build a new work shed designed by her dear friend, local architect Gary Gardner. But the natural serenity is shattered when out of the blue, right in front of Harry and Deputy Cynthia Cooper, and in broad daylight, Gary is shot to death by a masked motorcyclist.
Outraged by the brazen murder, Harry begins to burrow into her friend’s past—and unearths a pattern of destructive greed reaching far back into Virginia’s post-Revolutionary history. When Harry finds incriminating evidence, the killer strikes again.
Heedless of her own safety, Harry follows a trail of clues to a construction site in Richmond, where the discovery of mysterious remains has recently halted work. Aided as always by her loyal, if opinionated, companions, crime-solving cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and Tee Tucker the Corgi, Harry hunts for a link between the decades-old dead, the recently violently deceased—and ancient secrets that underlie everything. And while other deaths are narrowly averted in a flurry of fur, the killer remains at large—ever more desperate and dangerous. The deep-rooted legacy of corruption that’s been exposed can never be buried again. But if Harry keeps pursuing the terrible truth, she may be digging her own grave.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death, murder, poison, gun violence, physical violence, racist/xenophobic language, and miscarriage/pregnancy loss.
I had expected better of this book than what I got; though it wasn’t the worst, overall it was quite disappointing. One thing that is less the book’s fault and more my own is that the dual timelines did not work for me at all; though cozy mysteries like this one are usually fine read as standalone books, the historical plot that takes place in the 18th century apparently spans across the book before this one in the series as well as the book following this one. Because of this, the storyline felt incredibly disconnected from the modern-day narrative because it didn’t have anything at all to do with Gary’s murder. What was more odd was that the modern-day storyline read as expected — as if it could be a standalone read out of order even though it’s part of a series. The historical plot was also pretty boring and dry, and I didn’t care for anything that happened during those chapters. Even though reading the books in this series out of order and not getting the previous part of the 18th century narrative from the previous book, I still expect the characters and the narrative to be interesting, and they just weren’t.
The modern-day narrative was self-contained and more interesting, although I wasn’t impressed by it, either. The human characters mostly spent their time bumbling around almost as if they were waiting for the animals to give them clues, and while the animals were snarky and kind of funny when they talked to each other, their scenes were almost entirely consumed by Pewter the cat complaining about a giant spider. I know cozy mysteries often have a very leisurely pace to them, but this was just too slow and repetitive. I don’t mind a book being a leisurely read, but if it’s going to do that then the narrative needs to have enough content to keep my attention. This book felt as if it could have been half the length and still keep its leisurely pace and storylines without sacrificing anything.
Additionally, I was pulled out of the narrative on multiple occasions because of the racism and xenophobia contained in the book. I realize that this book takes place in the south and maybe phrases like “you can pinch a nickle until the Indian rides the buffalo” (9%) might be more commonplace than they are where I live, but it was still off-putting to see in the text. There was also a really weird scene where Harry’s new Black friend, Marvella, basically starts explaining institutionalized oppression to Harry and sort of even tries to turn enduring institutionalized oppression into a “positive,” and it feels really unnatural and weird. This isn’t my lane so it’d be better to seek out opinions of Black readers (or other readers who are PoC for the racism issues as a whole), but these scenes left a funny taste in my mouth.
I was also a bit uncomfortable with physical violence in the book. There is a scene where a “good” character is breaking the bones of a “bad” character in order to keep them in line, and I was cringing through the whole scene because that felt incredibly wrong to me for a number of reasons. It’s just odd to me that something like that would be depicted as acceptable and heroic when it’s pretty terrible and the character clearly has other options or has started doing it just because they can. This just did’t sit well with me.
I found myself really just wishing there was more to this book. It’s pretty average for a cozy mystery and there definitely could have been more to this one. It wasn’t the worst read, but it was underwhelming at best. If you’re a regular Mrs. Murphy reader then you might like this one; otherwise it might be better to look at other cozy cat mysteries instead.
Final rating: 3 of 5 stars