I've enjoyed many books in Rita Mae Brown's cozy mystery series that features amateur sleuth "Harry" Haristeen and her adorable talking animals.....tiger cat Mrs. Murphy, chubby gray cat Pewter, and corgi Tucker. After a while Brown's series became more political diatribes than light mysteries and I stopped reading them. When I heard this new book wasn't political I decided to give it a shot. Bottom line: I heard wrong. The 'cause' in this story (the plight of the poor) is toned down a bit, but the book is still more social commentary than mystery.
The story: It's Christmas season in Crozet, Virginia and local churches and charitable organizations are sponsoring a HUGE drive to distribute food and clothing to the needy. Silver Linings Youth Organization - devoted to helping young people - is especially important to the town. Harry Haristeen, her husband Fair, and their friends and neighbors spend a lot of time assisting the charities. They also attend a classy fund-raiser for Silver Linings...one of the season's many social events.
Before long two successful local businessmen lauded for their work with Silver Linings are found murdered - each missing two fingers. Moreover, a long-dead skeleton, heaved up by tree roots, is discovered by an enterprising coyote named Odin. Odin makes off with a skeletal arm that's wearing a gold bracelet. When the jewelry falls off it's quickly commandeered by Harry's pets as a Christmas gift for 'mom.' This part of the story is cute.
In the mystery part of the story Deputy Sheriff Cynthia Cooper investigates the various deaths. In the best books in the Crozet series Harry and her pets get VERY involved in solving the crimes. This is entertaining and adds fun elements to the tales. In this addition to the series, though, Harry spends most of her time delivering goods to the needy (in hazardous snowy conditions) and talking about the plight of the poor. This is an important issue but shouldn't make up the major part of a cozy mystery.
Harry's pets are still charming but they mostly hang out with 'mom', tease each other, have mock fights, converse with other animals on the farm, and sneak off with food scraps for the coyote Odin. In a pinch the pets fearlessly protect Harry....and Tucker gets to sink his teeth into someone's calf.
In the end there's very little detective work in the story and the crimes are solved because the perps just up and confess. Not much of a mystery book.
Fans of the series might enjoy reading about their favorite characters but most of the best characters - like Boom Boom, LIttle Mim, Big Mim, Blair, and Miranda - are largely (or completely) absent from the story. I didn't much like this book and - unless Rita Mae Brown goes back to her original formula - I'm done with this series.