Book Review: Out of Hounds by Rita Mae Brown

  • Title: Out of Hounds
  • Series: “Sister” Jane #13
  • Author: Rita Mae Brown
  • Publisher: Ballantine
  • Publication Day: January 19, 2021
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Mystery

From Goodreads:

“Sister” Jane Arnold and her hounds must sniff out a thief with expensive taste when a string of missing paintings leads to murder in this exciting foxhunting mystery from New York Times bestselling author Rita Mae Brown.

Spring is peeking through the frost in Virginia, and though the hunting season is coming to a close, the foxes seem determined to put the members of the Jefferson Hunt Club through their paces. Sister and her friends are enjoying some of the best chases they’ve had all season when the fun is cut short by the theft of Crawford Howard’s treasured Sir Alfred Munnings painting of a woman in hunting attire riding sidesaddle. When another painting goes missing five days later–also a Munnings, also of a woman hunting sidesaddle–Sister Jane knows it’s no coincidence. Someone is stealing paintings of foxhunters from foxhunters. But why?

Perhaps it’s a form of protest against their sport. For the hunt club isn’t just under attack from the thief. Mysterious signs have started to appear outside their homes, decrying their way of life. stop foxhunting: a cruel sport reads one that appears outside Crawford’s house, not long after his painting goes missing. no hounds barking shows up on the telephone pole outside Sister’s driveway. Annoying, but relatively harmless.

Then Delores Buckingham, retired now but once a formidable foxhunter, is strangled to death after her own Munnings sidesaddle painting is stolen. Now Sister’s not just up against a thief and a few obnoxious signs–she’s on the hunt for a killer.

My review:

I have long been a fan of Rita Mae Brown’s work. I love the setting, the characters, the animals. Out of Hounds is no exception.

The book is set in present day, opening in February 2020. Sister Jane, as Master of the Jefferson Hunt, is starting to prepare for the closing of the fox hunt season. But soon there’s a new topic of interest – the theft of high-dollar artwork, paintings of women riding sidesaddle. At first, it appears to be simply a thief with exquisite taste. But then dead bodies start showing up, and when Delores Buckingham, a retired foxhunter, also ends up dead, Sister is on the hunt for a killer.

This is not a full-throttle, high-speed mystery. It’s a slow burn of a story. The characters are, for the most part, middle-aged and older, with the gentility of old Virginia society. They act with decorum even in difficult situations, and the story unfolds largely through dialogue. Sister is more a hunt master who happens to be inquiring about a crime than a private eye or homegrown sleuth.

There is also a lot of detail about foxhunting. I find it fascinating, because it is completely out of my realm of experience. Brown thoughtfully includes a cast of characters at the beginning, identifying all players, both human and animal. This is helpful, because there are a lot of characters. Maybe more human than animal. I enjoy reading about how the hounds pursue their prey (no prey is actually killed, in case you were wondering) and how the hunters care for their hounds and horses. If you aren’t big on that kind of specific detail, this may not be the best read for you. I loved it.

I also found it fascinating that Brown weaves very current events into her story. The COVID lockdowns started as she was writing, and she uses that as part of the story. This is the first book I’ve read that has done that, and I feel like she used it to good effect. It’s interesting to see how she wrote the characters’ perception of current happenings.

Five stars from me, and I’ll read just about anything Rita Mae Brown writes from now until forever.

Thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine for the advance reader copy. All opinions expressed here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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