Ignoring the nonsense and focusing on the horses is usually the best course of action—and that holds true for this foxhunting murder mystery by Rita Mae Brown, a great escape for the last weeks of summer.
(top image from Random House)
I opened up Fox Tracks, Brown’s most recent missive in the “Sister Jane” series of foxhunting murder mystery novels, hoping to wrap myself up in the fictional world that started me on my way to full-on horse fever as a kid. Problem was…since the time I began reading them (at an age where maaaybe I shouldn’t have been reading about murders and illicit affairs) and now, I’ve gotten my BA in English Language and Literature.
In other words, I’ve become a literary snob.
Adverbs irk me. Flowery prose sets my teeth on edge. Ain’t nobody got time for that (to use a phrase that would make my professors cringe)! I was afraid to ruin what had been one of my favorite series growing up with my newfound pickiness. But since the author Rita Mae Brown is master of the Oak Ridge Foxhunt Club, I knew all of the horsey details would be spot-on. And as is often the case…the best course of action was to ignore people’s nonsense and focus on the horses.
Once I got over myself, the novel was a lovely escape. Foxhunting in the snow? Check. The drama of an outlaw hunt? Check. Coops, hogs-backs and tiger traps? Check, check, check! The scenes of the chase are delightfully suspenseful—you never know if hounds will keep the scent in wintry conditions, or if the staff will come across a dead body (spoiler: they do).
It’s always a pleasure to read anything written with the passion and knowledge that Brown possesses about foxhunting. Though with phrases like, “I’m so glad you’ve kept up your riding at Princeton,” it does sort of deflate the average horse-poor person’s ability to relate to the characters, despite the fact that most seem to be good, sensible people, even if they are outlandishly rich.
But then passages like this make up for it:
One good smack on his hindquarters with her crop and he sailed over, grateful none of his stablemates had seen that split second. Matador was only a year into foxhunting so he still had a bit of learning to do. Still, his talent was above reproach, and he showed it as he flattened out. Sister couldn’t remember the last time she rode so fast.”
That’s the good stuff.
One other criticism I have is that Brown has a peculiar habit of using her characters’ interactions as a way to transmit political views on everything from taxing cigarettes (this, at least, is related to the plot) to criticizing election fundraising and uneducated views of Middle Easterners. I’m guessing most people who view the cover aren’t really looking for that, so at least for me, it was an odd interlude between foxhunting scenes…because really, that’s the draw of the book.
The thrilling chase of the hunt, punctuated by people carrying on…maybe Fox Tracks is closer to real life than I’m giving it credit for!
Three out of five golden horseshoes.
Fox Tracks by Rita Mae Brown, published November 2012, is available in bookstores and online.