Monday, June 28, 2010

From the Shelves: Cat of the Century

Cat of the Century is the latest in Rita Mae Brown's murder mystery series that is "co-authored" by her cat Sneaky Pie. The series, overall, has been quite strong, although not every book is equally good. Occasionally, the motive for the murders has been very disturbing, and every now and again the method of murder rates high on the squeamish factor. However, Brown does a great job of letting her characters change and develop over time which is the key to longevity in a series.

Lately though, Brown has really started to use her characters as a way to express her political opinions, which are pretty liberal. Normally this doesn't bother me because 1)I tend to agree with her, 2)the opinions that are expressed are in keeping with the characters who express them, and 3)it is incorporated into the plot so as not to be jarring. That is, something has occurred that makes the character voice his or her opinion. However, in this particular novel, there seemed to be A LOT more of it than normal. Additionally, she chose to set a large part of the action at a real university in Missouri, William Woods University, for the express purpose of drawing her readers' attention to its existence. (She says as much in the afterword). Brown is an avid horsewoman and champion of animals, and William Woods offers a highly respected equestrian science, and she has formed lasting friendships with some of the professors and administrators. You get the idea.

The mystery was sound, and as I read the majority of this in one morning, it certainly kept me engaged. I did find the use of William Woods to be quite forced, especially since the rest of the action takes place in Crozet, Virginia where almost all of the other books are set. I also found the amount of politically infused dialogue to be over the top, making the characters more like mouthpieces instead of the characters I have come to love over the years. Not a bad read by any means, just distressing at times. If her next novel in the series follows this pattern, or worse, increases it, I will have to give up reading them altogether. Subtlety is our friend, and in this book, Brown passed right on by and got chummy with hit you over the head.

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