Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book Review: Fox Tracks by Rita Mae Brown

Fox Tracks by Rita Mae Brown is the 8th novel in a series featuring foxhunter and fox lover, and amateur detective, Sister Jane.

While outside on Manhattan's Midtown streets a fierce snowstorm rages, nothing can dampen the excitement inside the elegant ballroom of Manhattan's Pierre Hotel. Hunt clubs from all over North America have gathered for their annual gala, and nobody is in higher spirits than "Sister" Jane, Master of the Jefferson Hunt in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Braving the foul weather, Sister and her young friend "Tootie" Harris pop out to purchase cigars for the celebration at a nearby tobacco shop, finding themselves regaled by the colorful stories of its eccentric proprietor, Adolfo Galdos.

Yet the trip's festive mood goes to ground later with the grisly discovery of Adolfo's corpse. The tobacconist was shot in the head but found, oddly enough, with a cigarette pack of American Smokes laid carefully over his heart.

So it all begins with a murder, as it should really, but it’s not the crime that sets the pace and makes this such an interesting book to read, but the characters. First we have Sister Jane, a woman as unconventional as they come. Then there’s Gray Lorillard, her boyfriend and an opium smoker. Before too long in comes Crawford Howard, Sister’s enemy and a man so rich that can buy his way into and out of everything. And then there’s “Tootie”, a young woman who decides to give up Princeton, forget about her planned career and her family’s fortune and become a veterinarian.

However these are not the only things that make this novel such a good read; it’s also the hunting scenes. The author’s descriptions of the action as it takes place are in most parts really great.

On and on they flew, the sound of hoofbeats thrilling. Shaker rode well with his hounds. Betty, feeling that water in her boots, on the right and Sybil, a swift-moving speck on the left, charged over undulating pasture… Hounds disappeared over a swale. An old tobacco barn hove into view as Sister galloped down that incline, then up the other side. The hounds surrounded the old curing shed, some eagerly wiggling through spaces, logs deliberately built that way a century and a half ago.

Speaking of tobacco, it does have an important part to play in this novel as well. It’s not only that the murder of the tobacconist will spark a series of events that will put many lives into danger, it also has to do with the rights of smokers. Sister is really angry with the politicians that pass one law to protect the health of the public, but when it suits them just forget, or avoid, to pass another one, for the very same reason.

“…I was thinking about the people who love laws that inhibit other people’s choices. Is smoking a good thing to do? No. But those sanctimonious rulemakers live rather luxurious lives. They aren’t working on an assembly line or in scorching sun outside. If your job is repetitive and boring or dangerous, sometimes that little hit of nicotine takes the edge off. The people that make the laws go get prescriptions for Prozac and how does anyone know the long-term effects of all that crap?”

Right! Another interesting fact here is that the animals talk between them, something that inputs lots of humor into the narrative. I especially like the hate and hate relationship between the Sister’s dogs and cat. The cat is just like a spoiled and sly princess. She always gives the dogs a hard time and is the unofficial ruler of the domestic kingdom.

“Ow, ow, ow,” the harrier howled.
Hearing the commotion, Sister hurried out to the mudroom. Golly didn’t budge.
Sister opened the mudroom door, a gust of wind blew snow on the floor and the two dogs, heads down, hurried inside. Drops of blood fell on the slate floor. Neither dog looked the cat in the eye as she was prancing sideways, hoping to incite even more terror.
“Hateful. Hateful. Hateful.” Sister knew exactly what the cat had done.
“I’m the Queen of All I Survey! Dogs do my bidding. Humans feed me right on time.” With that loud declaration, she shot through the door into the kitchen, crossed the floor at a good clip, and ran up the narrow back stairway to the main bedroom. Then she dashed out into the long upstairs hallway to run victory laps.

In an unconventional household like Sister’s one could expect nothing less. These minor domestic troubles just seem to add spice to her life, and the fact that at her age she has a boyfriend she doesn’t want to marry, does nothing but prove that she’s true to her words: An unmarried woman is incomplete. When she’s married, she’s finished.

Crime, mystery, foxhunts and lots and lots of laughs; what more could one ask for in a novel? Rita Mae Brown makes sure that the reader has fun while reading her book, and she does so in a splendid way.

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