Mystery Novel Set on William Woods Campus

Best-selling author Rita Mae Brown has set her latest mystery novel in an unlikely location—the campus of William Woods University.Rita Mae Brown


Brown, known for writing her stories with the help of her feline friend, Sneaky Pie Brown, spins a tale of alumni returning to their alma mater, William Woods. Titled “Cat of the Century,” the book will be available April 6—a mere 17 days before WWU’s Alumni Weekend.


Published by Random House and part of the Mrs. Murphy series, “Cat of the Century” tells about Aunt Talley Urquhart, who returns to celebrate her 100th birthday. With her come Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen; the sleuthing cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and corgi Tee Tucker.


But something is amiss in Fulton, Mo. One graduate accuses another of mishandling funds. The former is fatally shot and the latter goes missing. Harry and her menagerie of mystery solvers set out to discover “whodunit.”


Although the names of the alumni have been changed to protect the innocent, WWU President Jahnae H. Barnett; her husband, Eddie Barnett; her assistant, Kenda Shindler, and several other of Barnett’s friends, along with equestrian professor Gayle Lampe, are all identified in the book by name.


Lampe introduced Brown, an equestrian enthusiast herself, to Barnett, and a lasting friendship was formed when Brown served as the commencement speaker 10 years ago.   She’ll return next month to again address WWU’s graduating seniors.


In the interim, Brown, 65, has maintained a relationship with William Woods, coming in 2001 to speak to students in a class called “Reading and Writing the Horse”—an English class specifically designed for students in the university’s renowned equestrian studies division. She also served on WWU’s Equestrian Board of Visitors.


Author of the groundbreaking best seller “Rubyfruit Jungle” in 1973, Brown has written about 40 books since then, including several mysteries “co-authored” with her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown. She is also an Emmy-nominated screenwriter and poet.


Brown earned a cinematography degree from the School of Visual Arts and a B.A. in English and classics from New York University. She holds a Ph.D. in English and political science from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.  She has lived in Virginia for many years.


An avid sports enthusiast, she is the master of the Oak Ridge Foxhunt Club. She used to play polo and she started the Blue Ridge Polo Club, the first women-only polo club in America.


Brown “cherishes life” and has rescued hundreds of cats, dogs, foxes and hounds—and some horses. Many stay with her, and she has found homes for others. And some, like Mrs. Murphy, Pewter and Tee Tucker, are immortalized in her stories.