Homeward Hound (Sister Jane Foxhunting Series #11)

Homeward Hound (Sister Jane Foxhunting Series #11)

by Rita Mae Brown

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Overview

“Sister” Jane Arnold returns in a colorful mystery featuring four-legged sleuths—and the breathtaking thrill of the chase—from the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Like a Fox.

As winter deepens over the Blue Ridge Mountains, even the threat of snowstorms cannot derail this year’s Christmas run, not as long as “Sister” Jane Arnold has a say in it. With spirits high and traditions strong, a glorious parade of hunters in full holiday regalia gathers on the grounds of Tattenhall Station. But a blinding blizzard brings an early end to the sport. More disturbing: A horse soon returns without its rider. Gregory Luckham, a controversial presence as the president of a powerful energy company pushing for a pipeline through central Virginia, is the missing hunter. A search is organized for what is presumed will be a dead, frozen body. What is discovered, however, chills everyone to the bone—and points toward murder. Sister Jane will have to untangle a mystery packed as hard as snow—full of history, secrets, old wounds, and avarice.

Praise for Homeward Hound

“Cunning foxes, sensible hounds and sweet-tempered horses are among the sparkling conversationalists in this charming series.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Readers will be charmed by Brown’s endearing characters, animal and human, all of whom are given to philosophizing on the state of the world.”—Publishers Weekly

“With deep and broad knowledge of the sport, the area and the people and animals who inhabit it, [Brown] infuses Homeward Hound—and the entire series—with unmatched authenticity, Southern charm, beloved characters and engaging storylines.”The Free Lance–Star

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399178375
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/20/2018
Series: Sister Jane Foxhunting Series , #11
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 129,544
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Rita Mae Brown is the bestselling author of the Sneaky Pie Brown mysteries; the Sister Jane series; the Runnymede novels, including Six of One and Cakewalk; A Nose for Justice and Murder Unleashed; Rubyfruit Jungle; and In Her Day; as well as many other books. An Emmy-nominated screenwriter and a poet, Brown lives in Afton, Virginia, and is a Master of Foxhounds and the huntsman.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

“Ouch, dammit.” Sister Jane stepped down from the small stool. “Sorry.” She patted Aztec’s neck, her chestnut gelding.

“I thought you were apologizing to us.” Betty Franklin, also braiding her horse, Outlaw, leaned over his neck to look at her friend and master.

Sister Jane Arnold was master of The Jefferson Hunt, had been for over forty years. She loved being a master, making decisions, solving problems. She did not love braiding, however.

“I can do that for you.” Tootie Harris, early twenties, a whipper-in, offered.

“I know you can, Angel, but I think I should braid my own horse.”

“Arthritis.” Her huntsman, Shaker Crown, braiding his horse, teased her. “I’m starting to get it. Anyway, I thought this is what children are for, braiding.”

“You know, he has a point.” Betty was standing on her low stool to reach the mane, a small bit of thick mane between her fingers, the clipped yarn in her mouth, which she took out to speak.

“Think it will be a lot of people tomorrow?” Weevil, the new, gorgeous, male whipper-in, hailing from Canada, asked.

“Weevil, usually is.” Sister climbed back up on the stool. “Matador is standing nicely for you.”

“He’s a good boy with a silky mane. Makes it easy,” the handsome blond replied.

“Just think, everyone who will hunt tomorrow is doing as we’re doing. I like to think of that, all of us trying to make our horses beautiful for Christmas Hunt,” Betty said.

The large end stable doors opened, Sam Lorillard with Rory Boone came in, shutting the doors behind them.

Sam pulled off his lumberjack cap. “Cold out there. Got off work early.”

“Cold enough in here.” Shaker tugged at Showboat’s mane with a short metal comb.

“We’re here to polish the tack. If you all are determined to braid your horses, we might as well get working on the tack.”

“The only reason you two are doing the tack, and there’s a mess of it, is it’s warmer in the tack room,” Betty good-naturedly said.

Sam, the brother of Sister’s gentleman friend, grinned. “That’s why we’re doing it.”

The two men, friends from their days spent living under the downtown bridge by the train station, stripped off their coats, walked into the paneled tack room. Both men had endured detox and counseling, although at different times. Neither of them could get a good job once clean because too many people remembered their misdeeds when drunk. Both wound up working for Crawford Howard, a man with an outlaw pack of hounds. As he hailed from Indiana, he took a chance on them and both Sam and Rory were grateful. Crawford and Sister, often crossways with each other, declared a truce thanks to Sam’s steady work and putting in a good word for Sister. Sam and Gray, his brother, had known the tall, slender woman most of their lives. She and her late husband would give them horses to ride as kids. Sam, younger, went to Harvard. Gray, a few years older, in his middle sixties now, had received a full scholarship to the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and from thence to a large accounting firm in D.C. where he rose to partner. Gray, one of the first African American men to reach such power in our nation’s capitol, wore it lightly. The Lorillards were bright people, as was their aunt Daniella Laprade, often married, each husband richer than the last. God knows, in her nineties she might do it again.

Tootie ducked into the tack room for a moment. “Sam, go light on the oil.”

“Will do.” He smiled at the beautiful young woman, almost a carbon copy of her knockout mother.

Tootie returned to Iota, her horse.

“Master, thank you again for loaning me Matador.” Weevil, finishing the braiding, picked up the stool, placing it alongside the stall. “He’s got so much scope.”

He used the term meaning “the horse could jump both high and wide,” much desired in the hunt field.

“It’s good for him to be ridden,” Sister replied. “I only hunt him about once every two weeks. That will change next season because I really must retire Lafayette.”

The gray Thoroughbred, in his stall, shouted, “I am not retiring. I can still outrun any horse on this farm. Just forget the retirement crap.”

Raleigh, a Doberman, and Rooster, a harrier, Sister’s house dogs, both stretched out on benches, tormented the older horse. “Retire. Eat apples and carrots all day. Hey, maybe you can take up golf.” Raleigh bedeviled him.

“Horses don’t play golf, idiot,” Lafayette answered quickly.

“I know that,” the sleek Doberman, wearing his blue jacket, fired back. “You can escape and run all over the golf course. Think of the newspaper coverage.”

Rooster joined in. “Loose horse destroys greens, tears up Ninth Hole.”

“Claims he was chasing a fox,” Raleigh added.

Lafayette snorted. “Better that than dog poop.”

Before this could further develop, Sister’s cellphone rang. She stepped down, punched the icon, walked into the tack room.

“You’re going in there to get warm,” Betty called after her, “leaving us out here to freeze.”

“Ronnie? What’s up?” she asked the hunt club’s treasurer on the line. Although a lawyer, Ronnie liked being treasurer, though he had Gray’s help when needed.

“Forgive me, last minute but I’d like to bring a guest from Deep Run.”

She dropped into a director’s chair while Sam and Rory dismantled a bridle each to completely clean it and shine the bit. No shortcuts.

“Of course, you know I love Deep Run.” She did, too, as Deep Run was the grand and glamorous hunt outside Richmond. “Anyone I know?”

“I don’t think so. Gregory Luckham. I’m lending him Pokerface.” He named one of his horses.

Sister sat up a little straighter. “The Gregory Luckham?”

Now both Sam and Rory turned to look at her.

“Yes, we worked together in Richmond, both of us on the Side by Side fundraiser. I found out he hunted. Would you like to join us for dinner at Farmington Country Club?”

“Thank you, Ronnie, no. You know how crazy it gets before one of the big hunts but of course, he is welcome. I look forward to meeting him. Before I forget, Betty and Tootie talked me into braiding with red and green yarn for Christmas. You know I’m not much for that kind of thing but they told me I was an old fart. To my face. Well, Betty, not Tootie, so I relented.”

Ronnie, one of Sister’s late son’s best friends, stifled a laugh. “You are always correct and I try to live up to your standards, but a little bit of Christmas cheer isn’t too much a violation of tradition. Good decision.”

“You really think so?”

“Sister, you always make the right decision. Which reminds me. Have you looked at the Weather Channel?”

“The snowstorm?”

“They’re predicting it for tomorrow afternoon.”

“I saw that, too, so I figure we’ll hunt for two hours, two and a half, then turn back. I spoke to Kasmir about it and we both decided to move the Christmas breakfast to Boxing Day. This way people can get home ahead of the storm. You know how weathermen dramatize any hint of trouble, so this should calm the nervous.”

“Good plan. You were smart to send the email early.”

“Ronnie, instant communication means everyone wants a decision pronto. How do I know what will happen tomorrow? The Weather Channel predicts a giant snowflake will fall upon Albemarle County. Everyone panics. I like to think things through and one thing I know I can’t think through is the weather. Have you ever noticed how wrong those forecasts usually are?”

He laughed. “I have, but still you were smart. And as I said, you always make the right decision.”

She hung up the phone feeling a bit elated.

Sam, rubbing down a rein, said, “The president of Soliden, the big energy company? Gregory Luckham?”

“Yes.” She stood up, slipping the phone in her jeans back pocket. “Why?”

Rory answered. “He’s a brave man coming here, the outrage over the pipeline.”

Sam filled in. “I don’t think anyone will do something stupid at the hunt but you never know. People are really passionate about this, cutting trees, violating a national park, harming the environment. And one of the projected paths dips right over the Blue Ridge, tears up Old Paradise, goes across Tattenhall Station straight through Beveridge Hundred. It’s lethal.” He named beautiful Hunt Club fixtures.

Rory provided the other side. “Jobs. Lots of jobs. Everything is shareholder value. Soliden doesn’t care what is ruined, what animals harmed.”

“Obviously I’m against the destruction, but I can’t believe someone would make a fuss at Christmas Hunt.” Sister wondered why so many people were so passive about such things.

“Outsiders?” Sam raised his eyebrows.

“Sam, I truly doubt that Gregory Luckham is advertising that he is coming to Jefferson Hunt’s Christmas Hunt.” Sister paused. “At least, I hope he’s not advertising.”

Back in the aisle she mentioned Ronnie’s call and heard the same concerns she’d just heard in the tack room.

“Everything will be fine. Come on, it’s Christmas.” She smiled, climbing back up on the low stepladder. “I don’t remember finishing the braids. They’re so tight.”

No one said a word.

Weevil had finished her braids while she was in the tack room. Took him no time at all.

She led Aztec back into his stall, arranged his good rug on him, walked out sliding the door behind her.

“I don’t know which one of you finished my job but I do thank you. My fingers aren’t what they once were.”

Shaker smiled. “Ah, but Boss, you can still outride any of us.”

She laughed. “Now that is a lie. I keep up. And, in truth, I love it. I’m most alive on a horse. Aren’t you all?”

They agreed.

Weevil, who was learning to love her, lifted an eyebrow. “Christmas. The birth of our dear Lord.” They stopped to look at him. “I believe if Jesus lived here he would be a foxhunter. Scenting is no good in Galilee. But Jesus was a sportsman. He was a fisherman.”

They laughed, happy in one another’s company. Weevil reminded Sister of her late son, RayRay, Raymond, who died in a farming accident at fourteen in 1974. Weevil possessed Ray’s quick way with words, his sense of humor, his love of hounds and hunting. You go on. No matter what happens you go on. She knew despite all, she was a lucky woman. Her husband, Big Ray, was also gone. Ray’s boyhood friends, in their fifties now, stayed close to her. And she didn’t care if it sounded like wish fulfillment, she could feel her husband’s love and her son’s love. She never stopped loving them and would love them until the day she died. She could even feel horses, hounds, house dogs, and cats who loved her.

As she swept her eyes on the people in the barn, she thought to herself, Love is all that matters. It’s so simple. Why do people make life so hard?

Betty interrupted this reverie. “You’re wearing garters tomorrow, aren’t you?”

“Of course. Why are you asking me?”

“So I’ll wear mine. They cut.” Betty complained.

“Then put moleskin under your breeches, twit.” Sister teased her.

“That’s a good idea.” Weevil found garters to rub, too.

Sister tapped her head. “You’d be surprised what’s up there.” Then she thought to herself, Amor Vincit Omnia. Bless Ovid. Love conquers all.

CHAPTER 2

Festooned, a huge, perfect Christmas tree commanded the anteroom before the formal dining room. Christmas balls from the 1920s, glittering new balls, angels, all testified to the longevity of Farmington Country Club, plus why throw holiday decorations away? This redbrick Georgian structure, a hint of Palladio, had been designed by Thomas Jefferson as a private residence before politics overtook his life. Like so many old houses, places, it survived tumultuous times, some up, many down, only to fall into the hands of a few who wished to save it. No one could imagine living there as a family, it was simply too enormous, having been built when one housed one’s immediate family, often one’s in-laws plus every shirttail cousin within a hundred-mile radius. Housing for slaves needed to stand the test of time and they did. Farmington was built to last. The way to save it was to turn it into a country club, which was done in 1927.

Naturally, many were shocked—a commercial venture, how crude. Those many, however, didn’t really have two nickels to rub together, much less what it would take to preserve this elegant place. And so Farmington Country Club inched Albemarle County a bit further toward the New South, which, of course, remained the Old South in ways both laudable and detestable.

The club flourished thanks in no small part to a fabulous golf course, expanded over the decades. The old course, built before land became outrageously expensive, could boast par fives, par fours, and this course did that. The shrubs, old trees, exquisite plantings made golfing as much a joy as possible, although clubs still landed in the ponds.

The formal dining room, painted in eighteenth-century subdued colors, remained a steadfast glory, and it was in this glory that a few Jefferson Hunt members gathered before tomorrow’s Christmas Hunt.

Ronnie had called together people to meet Gregory Luckham. Dewey Milford, ever at nonprofit fundraisers, was acquainted with Luckham. Ronnie believed more was accomplished socially than was ever accomplished at corporate meetings or on the floor of Congress. So he had invited people who could make a difference.

Gregory, a full head of ginger hair, sat next to Marty Howard, middle-aged, attractive. Marty knew how to get things done. Next to Marty sat Cecil Van Dorn, in his middle eighties, next to him was his wife, Violet Van Dorn. Sometimes they needed to help each other. Crawford was next to Charlotte Abruza, a historian he had hired to firmly place Old Paradise on the historic register as well as fight the pipeline. Old Paradise, founded in 1812 by a beautiful woman raiding the British supply trade, had a great history of feminist values. Sitting next to Charlotte was Dewey Milford, forties, perhaps the county’s most successful real estate developer, and then next to Ronnie glowed Yvonne Harris, the former runway model, one of the first African American models to make the cover of Vogue, who could destroy a man with one smoldering look.

One tried to seat girl-boy-girl-boy and Ronnie did his best. Given that he was gay, he thought he provided ballast. He wasn’t aggressive about being gay; he just was who he was, which was delightful.

“Crawford, I do wish you would hunt tomorrow. For all we know the fox will flee over to Old Paradise. You’ll be right at home.” Ronnie encouraged him.

Marty smiled. “We’ll be there to see you off. Neither Crawford nor I like the cold weather and it’s going to be frigid tomorrow, plus the threat of a storm. I just feel that moisture in my bones.”

Cecil laughed. “Funny how that happens.”

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Homeward Hound: A Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Kat-E More than 1 year ago
A great holiday read with a strong plot and riveting mystery. I love the interactions between the humans and animals. How the animals communicate to each other is enchanting. Who knows maybe they really can communicate with each other. The foxes were my favorites. I needed the terminology in the front of the book to help me understand the sport. There were quite a few characters to keep track of which is my only complaint. This made the book a little challenging to read at times. Rita Mae Brown is a wonderful author and I have most of her sneaky Pie Brown series. I think this will be a nice read if you love animals and mysteries.
gromine49 More than 1 year ago
I am never disappointed when reading a Rita Mae Brown book and this story certainly proved the point. Great story, engaging and allows the reader to flow along with the story.
dibbylodd More than 1 year ago
An odd book. The mystery is pretty good, well plotted and developed. But the overload of foxhunting details is to much. The book begins with pages of information about the "cast" and their relationships as well as the animals, both domestic and wild! That was almost enough to make me give up. It turns out the various animals "talk", to themselves and each other! Too cute, and I don't mean that in a nice way. With less info dumping on foxhunting and talking animals, I could have better appreciated the actual mystery. As it was, all that go me so mentally bogged down that I lost track of who the guilty party actually was by the time it was revealed.
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
Homeward Hound surprised me with the interesting tale of the fox hunt and the characterization of the animals. I feel that Homeward Hound provided a better format than Probable Claws, and the animal cast exhibited human traits more convincingly. Why do not all authors provide a character cast at the beginning of a story. I greatly appreciate this worthwhile tool when the author has an extensive cast. Rita Mae Brown shines in this genre of the hunt, probably due to her love of the sport. Brown dives into the explanation of the hunt and the many terms that apply to this sport. I thought that the tale would be arduous and lengthy, but the journey proved fun and enlightening. I will need to read more of this enjoyable series.
Tangen More than 1 year ago
animals, american-fox-hunting, murder-investigation, cozy-mystery Once again we are given an excellent murder mystery along with sentient animals and (for the foxes) bloodless hunting and marvelous horses. Fortunately for the reader, the book is prefaced by a dictionary of relevant terms and a comprehensive descriptive of all relevant characters both humans and animals. It's pretty easy from the opening chapters to see who is the kind of person who would be a target for murder, but from there on it is filled with suspects, twists, and red herrings! Altogether an excellent read whether you are into American fox hunting or not! I requested and received a free ebook copy from Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. Thank you!
MugsyMae More than 1 year ago
Homeward Hound, part of the Sister Jane series, has a great plot and wonderful characters. You get immersed in the fox hunting world of Virginia with all it's eccentricities and great characters, including the animals. There is a whole section before the story that introduces all the players - I love it! I am a big fan of Rita Mae Brown's Sneaky Pie mysteries, and somehow have missed the Sister Jane stories. Now I have to go explore those books too - so excited to have more Rita Mae Brown to read! Highly recommend this one.
MerriGib More than 1 year ago
No secret: I’m a big fan of Rita Mae Brown from ‘way back. I have loved her Mrs. Murphy mysteries from the start, and now Sister Jane has won my loyalty as well. I enjoyed this book, especially going on several vicarious foxhunts. The author really puts us vividly into the action. There is a kind of parallel process between the foxhunting and the mystery, as Sister's group follows emerging clues to a distressing conclusion. I also found the antics and interchanges of the animals (foxes, hounds, horses, and others) to be great fun. Ms. Brown’s writing shines with a love of animals, people, and history. Some of my forebears lived in colonial Virginia, so I somehow feel a kinship with the Virginia setting and savor learning more about it. Thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review.
MauCarden6 More than 1 year ago
I’ve been a fan of Rita Mae Brown (RMB) since the librarian had to pick me up off the floor after reading the first two paragraphs of her book Bingo over 18 years ago, Still one of the funniest, sweetest books I have ever read. RMB in 200o started a series set in central Virginia centered around fox hunting, an activity that RMB knows well as she is a Master of the Foxhound (MFH) herself in central Virginia., no small honor. RMB treats her foxhounds, house pets, foxes and horses as honored, thinking, verbal characters. Just the type of story I usually cannot stand. I make an exception of RMB who knows how to write a story and how to make you become invested in the characters. RMB is at her best when she writes about the foxhunting. I am like a kid with her nose squished against the plate glass window of a candy store when I read her books. Jane Arnold, better known as Sister, is MFH of the Jefferson hunt, a position she has held for more than 40 years. An old and venerable hunt, the Jefferson is a sought after club. At the Christmas Hunt, Gregory Luckham, president of an energy company and a member of another hunt is invited to ride with the Jefferson hunt as a guest. Luckham is president of an energy company that is planning on building a pipeline through central Virginia; virtually destroying historic properties and pristine wilderness. His host hopes Luckham will see the land his pipeline could despoil while also hoping the landowners could come to an accommodation and work for a new route. Unfortunately he disappears during a sudden blizzard that comes up during the Christmas Hunt. I never thought I would say this, but Homeward Hound seemed to consisted mostly of hunts. There are too many hunts, not enough of the mystery. These hunts, and the properties they go through are lovingly described and the thrill of the hunt perfectly portrayed. This however does not make up for the lack of investigation or interest in the murders on the part of both the characters and the reader. Still and all since I have been a fan since the beginning of the series, the book was like slipping on my robe and jimmy jams, enjoying the warmth and familiarity. I would invite any reader to join, at least for a few hours, this rarified life. RMB makes it easy to start anywhere with her dramatis personae and glossary at the beginning of the book. Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
nfam More than 1 year ago
Death Mars Sister Jane’s Christmas Fox Hunt The Christmas Hunt is one of the high points of the central Virginia fox hunting season. Although a blizzard threatens, Sister Jane, the hunt master, is determined to have at least an abbreviated run before the snow starts. A topic concerning the community is the plan by a major energy company to run a pipeline through the area. As a result the riders are not all happy when Gregory Luckham, president of the energy company is invited to join the hunt. Being Virginia, most people are polite, but one of the land owners whose land lies in the path of the pipeline, is furious about Luckham’s inclusion in the hunt. The hunt starts well, but the blizzard comes up more quickly than expected. The riders race back to their trailers, but one horse arrives without a rider. Luckham is missing. The search is on, but instead of the missing man, they find another corpse. I always enjoy Brown’s Sister Jane stories. The area is beautiful, and if you’re a horse lover, the descriptions of horses, dogs and the rides across the area are delightful. The books are filled with quirky humans, such as much married Aunt Daniella who drinks bourbon and has the history of the area down pat, and animals like the horses, dogs, and foxes who converse with each other. My only reservation about this book is that unless you’re into fox hunting, or just love horses, there are too many descriptions of fox hunts. Detection is done, but it takes second place to the descriptions of the hunting season. Still, I enjoyed the book and recommend it to lovers of horses and mysteries. I received this book from Net Galley for this review.