Friday, August 19, 2011

Hiss of Death: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery by Rita Mae Brown

Mary Minor "Harry" Harristeen is at the top of her game. Newly re-married to her beloved husband, Pharamond or "Fair" Haristeen, she's got her farm to look after, people and animals that love her, and a lot of stuff to do. But when she goes in for a routine health checkup, she gets the shock of her life. Somehow, she has breast cancer.

This is a complete and total shock to her system. She must go in for a biopsy to see if the small mass in her breast is cancerous, and deal with one of the worst health scares of a woman's life. But, as her Doctor reminds her, she is 40, in good health otherwise, and doesn't have any complications that would prevent her from healing properly once she gets things taken care of. But if it is cancerous, she will still have to deal with radiation and perhaps some chemotherapy. And she's lucky- she has lots of friends and people who love her, and who won't let her sink into despair and lethargy. And there are plenty of support groups- she's not the only one who has gone through such a problem or fought with cancer.

As Harry soldiers on with her health problem, she joins a local support group and plans to join a run for cancer survivors. But something strange is going on at the hospital- One of the nurses there apparently dropped dead without a mark on her, and with no prior diseases to account for such a fate. Everyone is shocked and stunned by the death, but views it as something of an act of God or accident. However, when another worker, a doctor, also in perfect health, dies without a mark on him, Harry smells a rat. But what could get two people killed? Is it some form of drugs or steroids? And how could they die without any mark of damage?

Something else weird happens when the local records storage burns to the ground. Harry feels that it is significant, especially since one of the victims stored all her records there, along with many others in the town. Unbeknownst to many, though, some of the records are stored in brick rooms that shielded the records from the burning and the heat. But the records can only be released to family, so if there is something in those rooms that might have led to the deaths, Harry has no chance of accessing it.

But someone in town is doing murder, and Harry knows she has to stop it... because otherwise, she herself might end up on the murderer's hit list. But can she stop the murderer and figure out why they are killing people, before she becomes a victim?

This was... kind of a new experience for me, in reading about Harry. Harry has always been in such perfect health, because she takes care of herself, and gets a workout by doing chores around her farm. I never expected her to fall sick to something as insidious as cancer. But there's hope since they caught it early, and after she has a lumpectomy, she has to deal with chemotherapy, which is incredibly debilitating, and do weight training and core-strengthening exercises to get back into shape.

And at the same time, she is faced with a new mystery to solve, so for this one, she is really going to need the help of her animals and the other animals of the town. I found the reveal of who the murderer was, and what they were doing that was so illegal, to be interesting and rather unexpected, and I liked how the animals once again saved Harry's life. I liked that this time it was *all* her animals, not just her dog and cats, who jumped in to save her. It was wonderful to read, even if it did make me wince.

So far, I liked this book the best out of all of the Mrs. Murphy mysteries. It's compelling because of what is happening in Harry's life as well as the mystery, and the mystery is something not easily solved. It's literally one you won't see coming, and that makes it all the more interesting. I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think other readers will as well. Highly recommended.

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