BOOK REVIEW: 'Let Sleeping Dogs Lie': People Are in Danger More Than Foxes in Rita Mae Brown's New Sister Jane Novel

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

I was familiar with Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy cat-themed mystery series, co-written by her tiger cat  Sneaky Pie Brown,  but I wasn't aware of her foxhunting ones -- until I read "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" (Ballantine Books, 304 pages,   $26.00). I have to admit I had to overcome a great deal of prejudice against foxhunting before writing this review.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Let Sleeping Dogs Lie': People Are in Danger More Than Foxes in Rita Mae Brown's New Sister Jane Novel

The foxhunting practiced by "Sister" Jane Arnold and other members of her Jefferson Hunt Club in central Virginia and elsewhere is the American style, where the fox is not killed when it's run to ground in its burrow. This is in contrast to the British variety of a sport that Oscar Wilde called (in his play  A Woman of No Importance ) "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable." The UK banned the sport --  almost a decade ago -- where the fox is killed by the hounds.

Another element that surprised me in Brown's novel was the prominence of affluent African-Americans in the sport, including Master of the Hunt Sister Jane Arnold and her boyfriend Gray Lorillard, a prominent Washington, DC accountant. I had always associated fox hunting with the WASPiest of the WASPs. There's no question that participating in foxhunting requires plenty of discretionary income.

Yes, I know from my knowledge of the country and from my reading of books by Stephen L. Carter and others, that there is a black upper class or upper middle class in this allegedly classless nation, people who summer on Martha's Vineyard and winter in very nice resorts in Florida, but foxhunting? One of the characters in the novel, young Anne "Tootie" Harris, is from a wealthy and prominent Chicago African-American family that doesn't approve of her devotion to foxhunting. They would prefer that she practice more "ladylike" indoor activities. 

Brown provides a front-of-the-book cast of characters -- human and animal -- which makes the enjoyable task of reading "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" even more pleasurable.

Enough with the demographics of foxhunting as most people view it;  if I've learned one thing from reading Rita Mae Brown, it is to expect the unexpected! 

Sister Jane and the Jefferson Hunt Club have traveled from Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains to of Kentucky to ride with the members of the Woodford Hounds — in the teeth of foul weather.  That's another aspect of the sport  that surprised me: Foxhunting takes place in the late fall and early winter. From living in a state adjacent to Virginia for many years, I shiver at the thought of riding a horse over snow- and sleet-covered fields! It can get very cold in West Virginia and Virginia in the late fall and winter. Too cold for this native of the upper Midwest now living in south Texas!

After the hunt, Sister Jane and  Gray Lorillard  head to a sumptuous party on a nearby estate, also home to a historic equine graveyard. (Maybe that's the reason why foxhunting is so popular: the great food and drink).  The revelry is interrupted by jarring news: The discovery of grisly remains in the cemetery that are decidedly not equine. Why is a human buried with a horse?

Sister and her hounds are on the case, along with humans, of course, digging up clues to an old murder that links three well-connected Southern families. When mayhem follows the Jefferson Hunt back to Virginia, the deadly doings become all too real: A dear friend of Sister’s is found murdered. Sister and her animal friends must work fast to find a clever killer determined to keep deep-rooted secrets buried.

Rita Mae Brown and some of her animal pals
Rita Mae Brown and some of her animal pals

About the author

Rita Mae Brown is the New York Times bestselling author of the Mrs. Murphy mystery series (which she writes with her tiger cat, Sneaky Pie) and the Sister Jane novels, as well as "Rubyfruit Jungle", "In Her Day", "Six of One", "The Sand Castle", and the memoirs "Animal Magnetism" and "Rita Will". An Emmy-nominated screenwriter and a poet, Brown lives in Afton, Virginia, with cats, hounds, horses, and big red foxes.

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For my April 1, 2012 review of Brown's "The Big Cat Nap":

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