Friday, August 26, 2016

Review of "Tail Gait" by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown

This cozy series - set in Crozet, Virginia - was once a favorite of mine. The main character, 'Harry' Harristeen, was a divorced postmistress and amateur sleuth. Harry solved mysteries with the help of her 'talking pets', two cats and a corgi. The lovable animals commented on Harry's activities, philosophized about people, rode mail carts around the post office, protected Harry, and helped solve crimes. The stories also had an array of recurring characters that added fun and depth to the tales. Most importantly, the mysteries were interesting, with plenty of suspects and clues. The last few books in the series, however, were more political diatribes than cozy mysteries and I decided I'd had enough.

Nevertheless, I decided to check this latest addition out of the library. This book is more of a historical novel about the American Revolution than a mystery and many of the well-liked recurring characters are absent or marginally present. As for Harry, she's now re-married and living on her farm. Thus, there's no chit-chatting with folks in the post office or snacking on baked goods prepared by fellow postmistress Miranda - which was an entertaining aspect of previous books. The talking pets are still present, but not as fun as they once were.

The story: A beloved retired history professor, Greg "Ginger" McConnell, whose specialty is researching and writing about the American Revolution, is shot on the golf course. Harry and a cadre of college football players - who were Ginger's students decades before - are profoundly grieved. Soon afterwards the death of another person with a connection to Ginger occurs.

Harry and the cops don't know anyone who disliked or had a grudge against Ginger. Thus Harry decides (for no obvious reason) that the murder probably was linked to Ginger's historical research. Unlike standard mysteries, there's not much questioning of suspects or searching for clues. Instead, Harry examines local geography, maps, and old records and becomes very interested in a historically accurate housing development under construction.

The book alternates between the present and the past. In the 'now' parts Harry investigates the murders, caddies for her golfing friend Susan, assists some homeless people, and tends her farm and horses. In the 'then' parts the American Revolution has started and British prisoners of war are housed in a barracks in Virginia. The historical sections are depictions of the lives of the POW's, who were treated fairly well in the circumstances. They had beds and food and were sent out to work at local farms and businesses. The POWs were friendly with their guards and the local population, and many remained in the colonies when the Revolution ended.

The story is okay, and the solution to the crimes makes sense. Still, the book seems more like an excuse to write about the American Revolution than a mystery. It would make more sense for Rita Mae Brown to publish literary novels about her areas of interest rather than add more psedo-mysteries to this (formerly well-liked) series.

I wouldn't recommend this book to mystery fans but if you're interested in POWs during the American Revolution you might like it.

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