Monday, February 1, 2016

Tall Tail- Rita Mae Brown

Tall Tail- Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine
Advanced Reader's Copy: Release Date: May 17, 2016

Synopsis: During a sudden storm Mary Minor "Harry" Harristeen's pickup nearly collides with a careening red car that swerves into a ditch.  Harry recognizes the dead driver as Barbara Leader, a nurse and confidante to former Virginia governor Sam Holloway- her best friend Susan's grandfather.  Though Barbara’s death is ruled a heart attack, dissenting opinions abound. After all, she was the picture of health, which gives Harry and her four-legged companions pause. A baffling break-in at a local business leads Harry to further suspect that a person with malevolent intent lurks just out of sight: Something evil is afoot.  As it happens, Barbara died in the shadow of the local cemetery’s statue of the Avenging Angel. Just below that imposing funereal monument lie the remains of one Francisco Selisse, brutally murdered in 1784. Harry’s present-day sleuthing draws her back to Virginia’s slave-holding past and the hunt for Selisse’s killer. Now it’s up to Harry and her furry detectives—Mrs. Murphy, Pewter, and Tee Tucker—to expose the bitter truth, even if it means staring into the unforgiving eyes of history and cornering a callous killer poised to pounce.

I was introduced to the Mrs. Murphy series with the very first book, and absolutely loved it.  Murder mysteries, sleuthing cats and corgis- what wasn't to like? After the first few books however, Brown's writing style changed to the point that I didn't enjoy reading her books anymore.  After several years off I decided to try Tall Tail and see if things had changed for the better.

The book alternates chapters between present day and 1784, where the present day mystery has its roots.  History is one of Brown's strong points, and her excellent research makes the reader feel immersed in that time period.

That is about the only positive I found in this book. It was slow paced, and the mystery often felt pushed to the back burner in favor of Brown's now characteristic rambles about government, the world, and the human condition.  When the story finally reaches the end, things pick up slightly, but still feels disappointing.  There's a chance you haven't figured out the why before it's exposed, but you're certainly not surprised by the who.  Much of the book looks at the idea that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and it is the rare few who learn from the past and their mistakes.   Far too many chapters end on what is supposed to be some kind of cliffhanger, or ominous statement- which works once or twice but gets old fast when used so frequently.  The great characters of Mrs. Murphy, Tucker, and Pewter are almost side characters here, and have sadly little to do to help the book plod along. 

Combining the present day and past story makes a clever way to explore this idea, but it's almost the only clever part of the book, and does not- in my opinion- make it worth the read.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

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