Saturday, December 22, 2018

Homeward Hound (Sister Jane #11), by Rita Mae Brown

Ballantine Books, ISBN 9780399178375, November  2018

"Sister" Jane Arnold is starting another fox hunting season. As Master of Foxhounds for the Jefferson Hunt, she's responsible for running the Hunt Club itself, together with her co-Master Walter, but also for relations with local landowners, ensuring the club has permission to pursue foxes on the local estates, only some of whose owners are fox hunters themselves. The hunt season itself has started off well, but nevertheless there is potential trouble brewing. Soliden, a major energy company, wants to lay a pipeline right through the heart of the hunt country and across old and carefully tended estates. A dinner planned to let the Soliden CEO and the hunt community get to know each other turns explosive. Crawford, head of another local hunt club, storms out in fury.

All of which is disturbing, but not nearly as disturbing as when, at the end of the Christmas Hunt, cut short by the arrival of a blizzard, they find two things.

Gregory Luckham, the Soliden CEO, has vanished, apparently right off his horse as they were coming in through the blinding blizzard. And a dead body is found, hit on the back of the head, and left in a ditch. It's not Gregory Luckham. It's Rory, a valued regular of the hunt's support staff.

What follows is a frustrating and alarming mystery for the Sister and her hunting friends and rivals. Every piece of evidence found makes it clearer and clearer that the killer has to be one of them. Yet there is really no reason for anyone to have killed Rory. And where is Gregory Luckham?

Brown has built up an interesting, diverse, and often likable collection of characters over the coursee of the series, and friendships and conflicts add to the interest of the story. In addition, as in all of her books, the dogs, cats, and horses, as well as birds and foxes, observe things the humans can't,and have their own opinions which they aren't shy about expressing--even if mostly it's only the other animals that get the full benefit of those opinions.

No dogs, horses, or cats die--and since this is Virginia fox hunting, not English fox hunting, neither do any foxes. The point here is an exciting chase ending with the fox going to ground, not killing the fox and collecting the useless trophies of brush and mask.

It's as always a satisfying story, both as a mystery, and in the long-running interplay of the characters. Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

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