Rita Mae Brown clearly loves horses, fox hunting, dogs, cats and animals of all kinds. And while sometimes I think her editor is asleep at the desk, overall Fox Tracks is an enjoyable, fun and entertaining read.
Fox Tracks is another of her Sister Jane novels. Sister isn’t a nun; it’s a nickname for Jane Arnold, a fox hunt Master, horsewoman, and Virginian who gets drawn into mysteries a lot. I think of Sister Jane like a fit, trim and equestrian version of Jessica Fletcher from the old Murder, She Wrote series. Like Jessica Fletcher, people have the unfortunate experience of dying near Sister Jane, although at least not always in her own home town. In this book, she travels with a few friends and her boyfriend, Gray Loliard, to New York City for the annual hunt ball. She pops around the corner from the Pierre hotel to a tobacco stand to buy cigarettes for Gray, and the Cuban clerk who waits on her is murdered just a few moments after she leaves the store. Similar murders are reported in the national news as occurring in Boston and other locations, and a body is found during a winter hunt near Sister’s farm. It’s all connected, mixed up with Custis Hall, the imaginary girl’s school in the novels, and Coptic Egyptians. If that seems far fetched, it is, but Brown is forgiven; her books are far too entertaining and sweet to be held to tasks for plot problems.
As with all of Rita Mae Brown’s books, her writing shines when she’s writing about fox hunting, horseback riding, or animals in general. Her dialogue among the critters in the book is priceless. I read a scene to my husband where Golliwog, the calico cat, lures the two family dogs outside so she can pop them on the nose when they return through the outdoor pet door. We were both laughing by the time the scene was over simply because it was just so, so true. We could imagine our cats figuring out a plot like that to get the dog. That’s what I mean by Brown’s love of animals. She just “gets” them and when she’s writing about them or from their perspective, she’s at her best.
The book felt rushed, however, as if the editors rushed it to print. The opening chapters were poorly written. Rita Mae Brown also has a, weird use, of commas. Half the time a simple swap of words or fixing an adjectival phrase or two would have made the sentence flow smoothly. Another editorial issue is that twice, proper nouns were made into common nouns. Someone needs to give national editors a list of horse breeds. I can’t tell you how many want to make Quarter Horse lower case, or Thoroughbred lower case. And the words Bag Balm, folks, are a proper noun. It’s brand of salve used on animals and on people and it’s not a common noun. Okay, so I’m a stickler for these things. I can’t help it.
Anyway….if you can overlook the bumpy prose and wait until the first fox hunting scene, you’ll be richly rewarded. Brown’s prose makes me feel like I’m riding along with the hunt. If the murder mystery isn’t that engaging, that’s fine. I stick around just long enough to find out what happens to the foxes, horses and hounds in Rita Mae Brown’s books.
They’re the true stars of her novels, anyway!
Disclaimer: I borrowed a copy of this book from the library. I was not paid in any way to write this review. It is completely neutral and unbiased.