If you’ve been following Green Man Review for any length of time, you’ll be aware I had a traumatic brain injury that affected my short term memory; that in turn rendered reading novels impossible, as I can’t follow the narrative worth shit. However I can listen to novels quite easily. Don’t ask me why, but I assume that different regions of the brain are involved. So that’s why I’m listening to this novel, the twelfth in Rita Me Brown’s Sister Jane novels, which are more or less centered on the fox-hunting culture of the Mid-Atlantic states of the U.S. Sister Jane is an older, early seventies character who is at the center of each story, as is her cat, companion dogs and hunting dogs.
If you’re not from that region, as is true with me, being generations rooted in coastal Maine, the culture depicted here can seem as alien as can be. That’s partly geographical and partly a reflection of the society Brown has chosen to depict, old money and/or capitalist to the bone and aggressively conservative, which Brown makes clear in every novel. Here there are two conversations early on that show this, the first being a screed that only Presidents who had served in the military should in in that office, and the second a rant about the European Union being an absolute failure.
The narrative style of Rita Mae Brown, who voices all these novels, isn’t one that gives a clear and distinct feel to each character. Oh, she has a wonderful Southern voice full of charm, wit and considerable talent, which makes for a great listen, but if you’re expecting something like the Ballad novels of Sharon McCrumb where every character is voiced distinctively so that you know who they are, you’ll likely be disappointed.
What is fascinating is the deep, loving look at that culture, and though the novels are always built upon the story in the previous novel, the author does a perfect job of giving the reader enough information to know why a character, say a fox, who was a cub in an earlier story, is now an adult. Yes, it’s a charming plot device, having the creatures speak, that allows Brown to give depth to story that’s simply not possible if only the humans in the story were speaking, and it’s particularly entertaining when the a fox and a foxhound trade insults, as they often do in these novels.
The mystery kicks off with the theft of a hunting horn that’s stolen out of its locked case in the local Fox Hunting museum. The only clue, on a left-behind cell phone, is what seems to be a selfie video of the horn’s original owner, Wesley ‘Weasel’ Carruthers, presumed deceased since 1954. Unless he’s a ghost who can steal things, it can’t be him as he’s still in his thirties on the mobile!
As the mystery develops, it becomes clear that someone has sufficient reason for Sister not to solve the half-century old mystery and will go to any length, including killing her, to stop her.
It’s a joy to listen to, with a skilled narrator, great setting, compelling mystery, and distinctive characters, both human and otherwise. Highly recommended, as are the previous audiobooks in this series, which are all read by the author as well.
(Recorded Books, 2018)