Brown, Rita Mae 1944-
Brown, Rita Mae 1944-
Brown, Rita Mae 1944-
Born November 28, 1944, in Hanover, PA; adopted daughter of Ralph (a butcher) and Julia Ellen Brown. Education: Attended University of Florida; Broward Junior College, A.A., 1965; New York University, B.A., 1968; New York School of Visual Arts, cinematography certificate, 1968; Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, DC, Ph.D., 1976. Hobbies and other interests: Polo, fox hunting, horses, gardening.
Home—Charlottesville, VA. Office—American Artists Inc., P.O. Box 4671, Charlottesville, VA 22905. Agent—The Wendy Weil Agency, 232 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.
Writer. Sterling Publishing, New York, NY, photo editor, 1969-70; Federal City College, Washington, DC, lecturer in sociology, 1970-71; Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, research fellow, 1971-73; Goddard College, Plainfield, VT, visiting member of faculty in feminist studies, beginning 1973. Founder, Redstockings Radical Feminist Group, National Gay Task Force, National Women's Political Caucus; cofounder, Radical Lesbians; member of board of directors of Sagaris, a feminist school. American Artists Inc., Charlottesville, VA, president, 1980—. Member of literary panel, National Endowment for the Arts, 1978-81; Hemingway judge for first fiction, PEN International, 1984; blue ribbon panelist for Prime Time Emmy Awards, 1984, 1986.
Shared Writers Guild of America Award, 1983, for television special I Love Liberty; Emmy Award nominations for I Love Liberty, 1982, and The Long Hot Summer (ABC miniseries), 1985; Literary Lion Award, New York Public Library, 1986; named Charlottesville Favorite Author.
(Translator) Hrotsvitra: Six Medieval Latin Plays, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1971.
The Hand That Cradles the Rock (poems), New York University Press (New York, NY), 1971.
Rubyfruit Jungle (novel; also see below), Daughters, Inc. (Plainfield, VT), 1973.
Songs to a Handsome Woman (poems), Diana Press (Baltimore, MD), 1973.
In Her Day (novel), Daughters, Inc. (Plainfield, VT), 1976.
A Plain Brown Rapper (essays), Diana Press (Baltimore, MD), 1976.
Six of One (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1978, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2008.
Southern Discomfort (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1982.
Sudden Death (novel), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1983.
High Hearts (novel), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1986.
The Poems of Rita Mae Brown, Crossing Press (Trumansburg, NY), 1987.
Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer's Manual (nonfiction), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Bingo (novel), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1988, 2008.
Venus Envy (novel), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Dolley: A Novel of Dolley Madison in Love and War (novel), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Riding Shotgun, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Loose Lips, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Outfoxed, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Alma Mater (novel), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Hotspur (mystery), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Full Cry (mystery), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Hunt Ball (novel), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2005.
The Hounds and the Fury (novel), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2006.
The Tell-Tale Horse Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2008.
WITH CAT, SNEAKY PIE BROWN
Wish You Were Here (mystery; also see below), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Rest in Pieces (mystery; also see below), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Murder at Monticello; or, Old Sins (mystery; also see below), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Pay Dirt; or, Adventures at Ash Lawn (also see below), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Murder, She Meowed (mystery; also see below), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Murder on the Prowl (also see below), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Cat on the Scent, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Sneaky Pie's Cookbook for Mystery Lovers, illustrated by Katie Cox Shively, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Pawing through the Past, illustrated by Itoko Maeno, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Claws and Effect, illustrated by Itoko Maeno, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Catch as Cat Can (mystery), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Tail of the Tip-off (mystery), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Wish You Were Here; Rest in Pieces; Murder at Monticello (three "Mrs. Murphy" mysteries in one volume), Wings Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Whisker of Evil (mystery), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Pay Dirt; Murder, She Meowed; Murder on the Prowl, (three "Mrs. Murphy" mysteries in one volume), Wings Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Cat's Eyewitness (mystery), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Sour Puss (mystery), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Cat on the Scent; Pawing through the past; Claws and Effect (collected; illustrated by Itoko Maeno), Wings Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Puss 'n Cahoots: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery, (illustrated by Michael Gellatly), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2007.
The Purrfect Murder, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2008.
Also author or coauthor of numerous screenplays, including Rubyfruit Jungle (based on novel of same title) and Slumber Party Massacre; contributor to script of television special I Love Liberty, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC), 1982, and author of television filmscripts for The Long Hot Summer, a miniseries for National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (NBC), 1985, The Mists of Avalon, 1986, The Girls of Summer, 1989, Selma, Lord, Selma, 1989, Rich Men, Single Women, 1989, Home, Sweet Home, Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS), 1990, Graceland, Napello County Productions, 1992, Mary Pickford: A Life on Film, 1997.
Murder, She Purred, based on the novel, was adapted for television and aired on the USA Network, 1998.
With the 1973 publication of her autobiographical novel Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown joined the ranks of those in the forefront of the feminist and gay rights movements. Described by Ms. reviewer Marilyn Webb as "an inspiring, bravado adventure story of a female Huck Finn named Molly Bolt," Rubyfruit Jungle was at first rejected by editors at the major New York publishing companies due to what they believed to be its lack of mass-market appeal. Eventually published by the small feminist firm Daughters, Inc., it sold an unexpected 70,000 copies. The book's popularity soon brought it to the attention of Bantam Books, which acquired the rights to Rubyfruit Jungle in 1977, and printed an additional 300,000 copies. Total sales of the novel number more than one million, and in 1988, Bantam released the book for the first time in hardcover form.
As Webb's comment suggests, Rubyfruit Jungle is told in a picaresque, Mark Twain-like fashion, an observation shared by New Boston Review critic Shelly Temchin Henze. "Imagine, if you will, Tom Sawyer, only smarter; Huckleberry Finn, only foul-mouthed, female, and lesbian, and you have an idea of Molly Bolt," wrote Henze. Though some adopted Rubyfruit Jungle as "a symbol of a movement, a sisterly struggle," the critic continued, the plot of the book is basically that of the "classic American success story." Explained Henze: Rubyfruit Jungle "is not about revolution, nor even particularly about feminism. It is about standing on your own two feet, creaming the competition, looking out for Number One." The truly original part of the novel, maintained the critic, is Brown's perspective. "While American heroes may occasionally be women, they may not be lesbian. Or if they are, they had better be discreet or at least miserable. Not Molly. She is lusty and lewd and pursues sex with relentless gusto."
Village Voice reviewer Bertha Harris had a few reservations about the authenticity of Brown's portrayal of lesbian life. "Much of Molly's world seems a cardboard stage set lighted to reveal only Molly's virtues and those characteristics which mark her as the ‘exceptional’ lesbian," remarked Harris. Nevertheless, Harris went on to state: "It is exactly this quality of Rubyfruit Jungle which makes it exemplary (for women) of its kind: an American primitive, whose predecessors have dealt only with male heroes. Although Molly Bolt is not a real woman, she is at least the first real image of a heroine in the noble savage, leatherstocking, true-blue bullfighting tradition in this country's literature."
Another Village Voice critic, Terry Curtis Fox, viewed Rubyfruit Jungle in a somewhat different light. Like Henze, Fox found that Brown relies on a well-known theme for her novel, namely, "sensitive member of outside group heads toward American society and lives to tell the tale." Since this portrayal of resilience and triumph in the face of adversity is so familiar and appealing, maintained the reviewer, "you don't have to be gay or female to identify with Molly Bolt—she is one of the outsiders many of us believe ourselves to be." Furthermore, wrote Fox, Brown "can laugh at herself as well as at others, and make us laugh, too."
Acutely aware of the fact that humor is a quality seldom found in books dealing with homosexual life, Brown attaches special importance to her ability to make readers laugh, regarding it as a means of overcoming offensive stereotypes. "Most lesbians are thought to be ugly, neurotic and self-destructive and I just am not," she explained in a New York Times article. "There's no way they can pass me off that way. I'm not passing myself off as gorgeous, and a bastion of sanity, but I'm certainly not like those gay stereotypes of the miserable lesbian, the poor woman who couldn't get a man and eventually commits suicide…. I'm funny. Funny people are dangerous. They knock down barriers. It's hard to hate people when they're funny. I try to be like Flip Wilson, who helped a lot of white people understand blacks through humor. One way or another, I'll make 'em laugh, too."
The novel Six of One was Brown's second major breakthrough into the mass-market arena. Based once again on the author's own life, as well as on the lives of her grandmother, mother, and aunt, Six of One—like Rubyfruit Jungle—attempts to make its point through ribald humor and an emphasis on the poor and uneducated as sources of practical wisdom. The story chronicles the events in a half-Northern, half-Southern, Pennsylvania-Maryland border town from 1909 to 1980, as viewed through the eyes of a colorful assortment of female residents. John Fludas, writing in the Saturday Review, noted that Six of One is a "bright and worthy successor" to Rubyfruit Jungle and that Brown "explores the town's cultural psychology like an American Evelyn Waugh, finding dignity and beauty without bypassing the zany and the corrupt…. If at times the comedy veers toward slapstick, and if there are spots when the prose just grazes the beauty of the human moment …, the novel loses none of its warmth."
Both Eliot Fremont-Smith and Richard Boeth felt Brown could have done a better job with her material. Commenting in the Village Voice, for example, Fremont-Smith admitted that Six of One "does have a winning cheerfulness" but concluded that "it's mostly just garrulous.…As a novel, it doesn't go anywhere; there's no driving edge; and the chatter dissipates. And as a polemical history (the secret and superior dynamics of female relationships), it gives off constant little backfires." Newsweek critic Boeth stated: "It is a major sadness to report that Brown has made her women [in Six of One] not only boring but false…. Her only verbal tool is the josh—speech that is not quite witty, sly, wry, sardonic, ironic or even, God help us, clever, but only self-consciously breezy…. These aren't human beings talking; it's 310 pages of ‘Gilligan's Island.’"
In her New York Arts Journal review of Six of One, Liz Mednick attributed what some reviewers perceived as characterization problems to Brown's determination "to show how wise, witty, wonderful and cute women really are. Her silent competitor in this game is the masculine standard; her method, systematic oneupmanship. The women in Six of One buzz around like furies trying to out-curse, out-class, out-wit, out-smart, out-shout, out-smoke, out-drink, out-read, out-think, out-lech, out-number and outrage every man, dead or alive, in history. Needless to say, ambition frequently leads the author to extremes…. As if to insure her success, Brown makes her men as flat as the paper on which they're scrawled. The problem with her men is not even so much that they lack dimension as that they don't quite qualify as male." In short, concluded Mednick, Six of One "is less a novel than a wordy costume the author wears to parade herself before her faceless audience. Her heroines are presented not for inspection but as subjects for whom the narrative implicitly demands admiration." Washington Post Book World reviewer Cynthia MacDonald, on the other hand, cited Six of One as evidence of a welcome change in women's literature. She wrote: "The vision of women we have usually gotten from women novelists is of pain and struggle or pain and passivity; it is seldom joyous and passionate, and almost never funny. And what humor there was has been of the suffering, self-deprecating New York Jewish stand-up comedian type. [This book] is joyous, passionate and funny. What a pleasure!… I believe that Brown uses a kind of revisionist history to support her conviction that what was seen in the first half of the twentieth century as the life of women was only what was on the surface, not what was underneath."
Responding to criticism that women of the early 1900s could not possibly have been as liberated—not to mention as raucous—as they are depicted in the novel, Brown told Leonore Fleischer in a Washington Post Book World interview: "I grew up with these two almost mythical figures around me, my mother and my aunt, who didn't give a rat's a— what anybody thought. They'd say anything to anybody, and they did as they damn well pleased. We were so poor, who cares what poor people do? Literature is predominantly written by middle-class people for middle-class people and their lives were real different. As a girl, I never saw a woman knuckle under to a man, or a man to a woman, for that matter…. The people closest to me were all very dominating characters. The men weren't weak, but somehow the women … were the ones you paid attention to."
Though it, too, focuses on the difficulties straight and gay women face in a hypocritical and judgmental society, Brown's novel Sudden Death represents what the author herself termed "a stylistic first for me." Written in an uncharacteristically plain and direct manner, Sudden Death examines the "often vicious and cold-blooded" world of women's professional tennis; many readers assume that it more or less chronicles Brown's experiences and observations during her involvement with star player Martina Navratilova. As Brown sees it, however, the book is much more than that: it is the fulfillment of a promise to a dying friend, sportswriter Judy Lacy, who had always wanted to write a novel against the background of women's tennis. Just prior to her death from a brain tumor in 1980, Lacy extracted a reluctant promise from Brown to write such a novel, even though Brown "didn't think sports were a strong enough metaphor for literature." Judy "tricked me into writing it," explained the author in a Publishers Weekly interview. "She knew me well enough to know how I'd feel about my promise, that it would be a deathbed promise…. I thought about her all the time I was writing it. It was strange to be using material that you felt belonged to somebody else. It's really Judy's book."
For the most part, critics felt that Sudden Death has few of the qualities that make Rubyfruit Jungle and Six of One so entertaining. In the Chicago Tribune Book World, for instance, John Blades noted that despite the inclusion of "intriguing sidelights on how [tennis] has been commercialized and corrupted by sponsors, promoters and greedy players," Sudden Death "lacks the wit and vitality that might have made it good, unwholesome fun. Brown seems preoccupied here with extraliterary affairs; less interested in telling a story than in settling old scores." Anne Chamberlin commented in the Washington Post: "If you thought Nora Ephron's Heartburn had cornered the market on true heartbreak, thinly veiled, make room for Sudden Death.… Don't get mad; get even, as the saying goes, and this novel should bring the score to deuce. It not only chops the stars of women's professional tennis down to size; it tackles the whole pro tennis establishment…. Having reduced that tableau to rubble, Brown turns her guns on America's intolerance of lesbians. That's a lot of targets for one bombing run, and all 241 acerbic pages of Sudden Death are jammed with as disagreeable a bunch of people doing mean things to each other as you are likely to meet at one time." Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Kay Mills felt that the protagonist of the book is characterized so flatly "that one is devoid of sympathy for her when a jealous rival seeks to break her," and Elisabeth Jakab, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented that Brown "is not at her best here. The world of tennis does not seem to be congenial ter- rain for her, and her usually natural and easy style seems cramped…. In Sudden Death we can almost hear the pieces of the plot clanking into their proper slots." Brown, who says she does not read reviews of her books, is nevertheless aware of the kinds of remarks critics made about Sudden Death, to which she responds: "I don't care; it doesn't matter at all; and anyway, I'm already on the next book…. I wrote this because Judy asked me to…. I learned a lot, but I can't wait to get back on my own territory."
In 1990, Brown attempted a literary departure of sorts. With the "help" of her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown, she wrote a mystery titled Wish You Were Here. The plot is rather complicated, full of death by cement and train "squishing." At the center of all the mayhem is postmistress Mary Minor Haristeen, or Harry, and her pets, a cat named Mrs. Murphy and a Welsh Corgi named Tee Tucker. Later collaborations by Brown and Sneaky Pie include Pay Dirt; or, Adventures at Ash Lawn, Catch as Cat Can, and Sour Puss, to name a few. In Pay Dirt, Brown and Sneaky Pie's fourth effort, Harry, Mrs. Murphy, and Tee Tucker return for what one Publishers Weekly reviewer called "the best Mrs. Murphy adventure yet." The same reviewer praised Brown's "supporting cast of eccentric characters (both two-and four-legged)."
In Cat on the Scent, the county is in an uproar over a proposal for a new reservoir, and following a contentious planning commission meeting to discuss the project, two people are murdered: first a resident of Crozet is found dead in a meat locker, and then an Englishman who is participating in a local Civil War reenactment is mysteriously shot with actual bullets from one of the prop muskets. Mrs. Murphy and her cohorts Pewter and Tucker set out to learn if and how these events are connected, and if the small plane that Mrs. Murphy spotted landing by an old barn in a secretive manner might be linked to them as well. Jenny McLarin, in a review for Booklist, suggested that Brown might have taken the skills of her feline and canine detectives a bit too far in this installment of the series, commenting that "the idea of two cats and a dog actually driving a Porsche is way too much—intelligent fantasy become silly cartoon." However, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the characters' adventures amusing, remarking that "told with spunk and plenty of whimsy, this is another delightful entry in a very popular series."
Claws and Effect is the ninth book in the "Mrs. Murphy" series. Winter has been long settled over the sleepy town of Crozet, Virginia, leaving its inhabitants frozen and sluggish and with little to talk about other than the ice on the streets. However, when the local hospital's plant manager is murdered, his body discovered in the building's basement, Harry is determined to get to the bottom of the case. Her interest is particularly piqued because of the spot where the corpse was left, as there have long been rumors around town that the hospital building's basement was once a station for the Underground Railroad. However, when Harry goes to check out the basement, she is attacked, and the situation escalates further when a much-loved physician at the hospital turns up as the next victim. Ultimately, Mrs. Murphy and her fellow creatures take up the case in an effort to ensure Harry's safety. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked of this installment that "the personal anecdotes and perplexing predicaments of the human and nonhuman characters enhance an intriguing and well-executed mystery."
Claire McNab, writing for Lambda Book Report, noted that Catch as Cat Can is "definitively in the cozy genre." She went on to say that "the pleasures of Catch as Cat Can lie not so much in the mystery being explored, but in the light-hearted, frequently ironic tone that Rita Mae Brown assumes, and in the amusing, sometimes tart, conversations between the animals."
In Whisker of Evil, Harry stumbles across a man who had his throat cut and is dying from the loss of blood. It also soon becomes apparent that the man suffers from rabies as well. In an effort to determine what has happened, Harry investigates the scene of the crime, discovering a ring that turns out to belong to a woman who went missing a long time earlier, causing her to wonder if there is a connection between her disappearance and the attack on the man. At the heart of the mystery is the disappearance of a valuable horse, well known as an excellent stud. Harry, along with her furry friends, sets out to discover how the various smaller mysteries are connected. Booklist reviewer Jenny McLarin observed that "Brown comes into her own here; never has she seemed more comfortable with her characters," and she concluded that this volume of the series is "the pick of the litter."
Sour Puss, published in 2006, was met with similar praise. Jenny McLarin, a reviewer for Booklist, felt that the author becomes increasingly "relaxed and comfortable with her characters in each new adventure, reenergizing a series that could easily have grown stale over time."
Brown resumes her focus on a strong lesbian character in her 1993 novel, Venus Envy. Although her forthright treatment of lesbianism first attracted many critics to Rubyfruit Jungle, reception of Venus Envy was somewhat less enthusiastic. Carla Tomaso, who found Frazier to be another of Brown's loveable, "irreverent individualists," suggested in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that Brown's tenth novel, focusing as it does on the importance of self-acceptance and self-love, is too didactic, with the author attempting to pull "too many strings…. Brown needs to relax and stop worrying that we won't get the message." R.C. Scott, writing in the New York Times Book Review, went even further, stating that the book "forsake[s] character for the naive and irksome dogma of guilt-free and munificent sex." Nevertheless, Book reviewer Diane Salvatore found Brown still capable of acerbic wit and noted that the message, if somewhat repetitive, is valid.
Brown's 1994 historical work and a product of extensive research, Dolley: A Novel of Dolley Madison in Love and War, renewed critical admiration of Brown. The product of eight years of research, Dolley stimulated interest in one of America's still admired though nearly forgotten women at a time when First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was sparking new debates on the roles and rights of presidential wives. A series of journal entries interspersed with third-person chapters, Dolley follows history more closely in some areas than others. The connection between the political power plays, scandals, and infighting during Madison's presidency and contemporary times was not lost on reviewer Roz Spafford, who noted that the U.S. capital during the War of 1812 is "not unfamiliar." The reviewer stated: "Brown successfully brings to life … a woman who up to now has not been redeemed by feminist scholarship … [and] persuasively highlights the tensions Dolley Madison must have felt: She was closely connected to her Quaker heritage, yet committed to the war effort, strongly anti-slavery but, through her husband, the owner of slaves." Library Journal reviewer Mary Ann Parker commented: "Brown knows how to combine the personal and the political in an attractive picture of Dolley."
In 1997, Brown switched directions once again, penning her autobiography Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser. The memoir "affords her readers some insight into who and what propels her fiction," stated Robert A. Pela, writing for the Advocate. It is an introspective analysis of her life's struggles, including her troubled upbringing and family life, her removal from the University of Florida, and her failed lesbian love affairs. Pela also noted that "nothing escapes her rueful, sympathetic analysis … yet all these opinions are tempered by the same generous, homespun language that made her place in the queer literary canon." After reading the memoir, Barbara Levy, reviewing the book for Women's Review of Books, was "unprepared" and "delighted" by Brown's "mellower, more thoughtful tone than in her fiction." Library Journal reviewer Jeris Cassel concluded that "reading this book is like sitting down and exchanging tales with a good friend or close family member."
Alma Mater brings to mind Brown's earlier efforts, such as Rubyfruit Jungle. The book, set at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, introduces heroine Vic Savedge, a Southerner born and bred, to her new neighbor from the North, Chris Carter, a pretty young woman from Vermont. Vic is the epitome of Southern grit and breeding, dating a football player whose family tree boasts a U.S. president, and has a tendency to gossip. However, Vic has a feminist streak as well, and does not intend to be married off to the highest bidder with the best credentials the way her mother expects; it is, after all, 1980. When Vic finds herself attracted to Chris, she gives in to her desire to experiment with her and sets out on a road to a far less conventional life than the one her mother aspires to on her behalf. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book not up to Brown's usual standards, stating that "sketchy characterization and desultory writing don't exactly fill in the blanks between sex scenes, and the college-lesbian romance seems awfully dated—when not embarrassingly rapturous." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly also found the characters flat and the plot overdone, remarking that "Brown's good-natured humor and exuberant treatment of her themes may satisfy her fans, but she's unlikely to pick up new readers this time around."
Brown's 2006 mystery, The Hounds and the Fury, revolves around a foxhunt, an activity for which Brown has great affection that shines through her writing. The story focuses on Jane Arnold, known as Sister, who serves at the Jefferson Hunt Club as master of the hounds even though she is well into her seventies. Normally, Sister is friendly with all of the club members, but two newcomers rub her the wrong way, a sense that is later confirmed when her significant other, Gray Lorillard, discovers one of them has been embezzling funds from a local firm. When the culprit is murdered and Gray's brother is shot soon after, Sister becomes intent on solving the mystery. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews remarked: "Though the villain's not hard to find, Brown makes the hunt enjoyable."
Puss 'n Cahoots: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery follows Sour Puss in the Sneaky Pie series. This adventure takes place against the backdrop of a horse show, once again illustrating Brown's love of animals. Mrs. Murphy and the rest of the feline cast join Harry and Fair Hairsteen in Shelbyville, Kentucky, but a robbery during the course of the trip sets the cats into detective mode. Mary Frances Wilkins, in a review for Booklist, opined that "this clever mystery strikes a comfortable balance between suspense and silliness."
The Purrfect Murder begins when a local obstetrician/gynecologist, known for performing abortions, is murdered in cold blood at his office. There appears to be no mystery, as the killer—a pro-choice activist—appears and admits to the crime relatively early in the book. However, women who have had abortions begin receiving blackmail demands, proving that the fanatic had not acted alone. On top of this, a close friend of Harry's appears to have killed one of her clients, a situation that prompts Harry to get on the case, along with her four-legged partners. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews remarked that "the pets steal the limelight in a transparent mystery that will still offer pleasure to fans of animal sleuths."
Since her initial publication of Rubyfruit Jungle—which remains her best-known work—Brown's identity as a writer has developed several facets. Despite her commitment to depicting gay women in a positive light, she has balked at being labeled a "lesbian writer." In a Publishers Weekly interview, she stated: "Calling me a lesbian writer is like calling [James] Baldwin a black writer. I say no; he is not: he is a great writer and that is that. I don't understand people who say Baldwin writes about ‘the black experience’—as if it is so different from ‘the white experience’ that the two aren't even parallel. That is so insulting … and I really hate it."
In an essay written for the Publishers Weekly column "My Say," Brown elaborated on her opposition to the use of such labels. "Classifying fiction by the race, sex or sex preference of the author is a discreet form of censorship," she maintained. "Americans buy books by convicted rapists, murderers and Watergate conspirators because those books are placed on the best seller shelf, right out in front where people can see them. Yet novels by people who are not safely white or resolutely heterosexual are on the back shelves, out of sight. It's the back of the bus all over again. Is this not a form of censorship? Are we not being told that some novels are more ‘American’ than others? That some writers are true artists, while the rest of us are ‘spokespersons’ for our group? What group? A fiction writer owes allegiance to the English language only. With that precious, explosive tool the writer must tell the emotional truth. And the truth surely encompasses the fact that we Americans are female and male; white, brown, black, yellow and red; young, old and in-between; rich and poor; straight and gay; smart and stupid…. On the page all humans really are created equal. All stories are important. All lives are worthy of concern and description.… Incarcerating authors into types is an act of treason against literature and, worse, an assault on the human heart." Therefore, concluded Brown in her interview, "next time anybody calls me a lesbian writer I'm going to knock their teeth in. I'm a writer and I'm a woman and I'm from the South and I'm alive, and that is that."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Brown, Rita Mae, Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 18, 1981, Volume 43, 1987.
Ward, Carol Marie, Rita Mae Brown, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1993.
Advocate, June 15, 1993, D.B. Atcheson, "Lovely Rita," p. 68; October 14, 1997, Robert A. Pela, review of Rita Will, p. 123.
Booklist, August, 1992, Barbara Duree, review of Rest in Pieces, p. 1997; February 15, 1993, Marie Kuda, review of Venus Envy, p. 1011; March 15, 1994, Marie Kuda, review of Dolley: A Novel of Dolley Madison in Love and War, p. 1302; October 1, 1994, Barbara Duree, review of Murder at Monticello; or, Old Sins, p. 241; February 1, 1996, Brad Hooper, review of Riding Shotgun, p. 898; January 1, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of Cat on the Scent, p. 791; April 15, 1999, Brad Hooper, review of Loose Lips, p. 1451; October 15, 1999, Emily Melton, review of Outfoxed, p. 394; March 1, 2000, Jenny McLarin, review of Pawing through the Past, p. 1147; January 1, 2001, Jenny McLarin, review of Claws and Effect, p. 923; October 1, 2001, Whitney Scott, review of Alma Mater, p. 268; December 15, 2002, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Tail of the Tip-off, p. 707; January 1, 2004, Jenny McLarin, review of Whisker of Evil, p. 788; July, 2005, Jenny McLarin, review of The Hunt Ball, p. 1875; January 1, 2006, Jenny McLarin, review of Sour Puss, p. 22; February 1, 2007, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Puss 'n Cahoots: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery, p. 4.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 22, 2003, review of Full Cry, p. D43.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1998, review of Murder on the Prowl, p. 160; October 1, 2001, review of Alma Mater, p. 1379; January 1, 2003, review of The Tail of the Tip-off, p. 27; January 1, 2006, review of Sour Puss, p. 17; August 1, 2006, review of The Hounds and the Fury, p. 754.
Lambda Book Report, May, 1993, pp. 13-14; May, 2002, Claire McNab, review of Catch as Cat Can, p. 19; November 15, 2007, review of The Purrfect Murder.
Library Journal, November 15, 1987, Rosaly Demaios Roffman, "Poems," p. 83; February 1, 1988, Mollie Brodsky, review of Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer's Manual, p. 64; October 15, 1988, Beth Ann Mills, review of Bingo, p. 100; November 1, 1990, Rex E. Klett, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 128; April 15, 1994, Mary Ann Parker, review of Dolley, p. 108; October 15, 1995, Cynthia Johnson, review of Pay Dirt; or, Adventures at Ash Lawn, p. 86; November 15, 1997, Jeris Cassel, review of Rita Will, p. 58.
MBR Bookwatch, February, 2005, Harriet Klausner, review of Cat's Eyewitness.
Ms., March, 1974, Marilyn Webb, review of Rubyfruit Jungle.
Nation, June 19, 1982, Alice Denham, review of Southern Discomfort, p. 759.
New Boston Review, April-May, 1979, Shelly Temchin Henze, review of Rubyfruit Jungle.
Newsweek, October 2, 1978, review of Six of One.
New York Arts Journal, Liz Mednick, review of Six of One, November-December, 1978.
New York Times Book Review, March 21, 1982, Annie Gottleib, review of Southern Discomfort, p. 10; June 19, 1983, review of Sudden Death, p. 12; May 17, 1987, Patricia T. O'Conner, review of High Hearts, p. 54; September 6, 1992, Marilyn Stasio, review of Rest in Pieces, p. 17; June 27, 1993, R.C. Scott, review of Venus Envy, p. 18; December 8, 1996, Marilyn Stasio, review of Murder, She Meowed, p. 50; May 3, 1998, Marilyn Stasio, review of Murder on the Prowl, p. 28; March 17, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of Catch as Cat Can, p. 20.
Omni, April, 1988, Marilyn Long, "Paradise Tossed," p. 36.
People, April 26, 1982, Karen G. Jackovich, "The Unthinkable Rita Mae Brown Spreads around a Little ‘Southern Discomfort,’" p. 75.
Publishers Weekly, November 20, 1987, John Mutter, review of The Poems of Rita Mae Brown, p. 66; December 11, 1987, review of Starting from Scratch, p. 56; September 9, 1988, review of Bingo, p. 122; September 21, 1990, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 66; June 1, 1992, review of Rest in Pieces, p. 54; February 8, 1993, review of Venus Envy, p. 76; March 28, 1994, review of Dolley, p. 81; October 16, 1995, review of Pay Dirt, p. 44; January 22, 1996, review of Riding Shotgun, p. 57; October 14, 1996, "Murder, She Meowed," p. 67; February 1, 1999, review of Cat on the Scent, p. 79; May 3, 1999, review of Loose Lips, p. 66; December 20, 1999, review of Outfoxed, p. 58; March 20, 2000, review of Pawing through the Past, p. 74; January 8, 2001, review of Claws and Effect, p. 50; October 1, 2001, review of Alma Mater, p. 38; March 8, 2004, review of Whisker of Evil, p. 55; January 31, 2005, review of Cat's Eyewitness, p. 52; July 11, 2005, review of The Hunt Ball, p. 62.
Saturday Review, September 30, 1978, John Fludas, review of Rubyfruit Jungle.
School Library Journal, April, 1991, Claudia Moore, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 153.
Village Voice, September 12, 1977, Bertha Harris, review of Rubyfruit Jungle; October 9, 1978, Terry Curtis, review of Rubyfruit Jungle.
Washington Post, May 31, 1983, Anne Chamberlin, review of Sudden Death, p. C2.
Washington Post Book World, October 15, 1978, Cynthia MacDonald, review of Six of One; May 1, 1994, author interview.
Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1991, Kathleen Maio, review of Wish You Were Here, p. 113.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1998, Barbara Levy, review of Rita Will, p. 36.
Rita Mae Brown Home Page,http://www.ritamaebrown.com (March 31, 2008).