"A rich, atmospheric murder mystery . . . rife with love, scandal . . . redemption, greed and nobility," raved the San Jose Mercury News about Outfoxed, Rita Mae Brown's first foxhunting masterpiece. In The Hunt Ball, the latest novel in this popular series, all the ingredients Brown's readers love are abundantly present: richness of character and landscape, the thrill of the hunt, and the chill of violence.The trouble begins at Custis Hall, an exclusive girls' school in Virginia that has gloried in its good name for nearly two hundred years. At first, the outcry is a mere tempest in a silver teapot-a small group of students protesting the school's exhibit of antique household objects crafted by slaves-and headmistress Charlotte Norton quells the ruckus easily.
The most appealing characters in Brown's underplotted new mystery are the animals, even without Sneaky Pie's coauthorship. Septuagenarian "Sister" Jane Arnold, the Master of the central Virginia Jefferson Hunt Club, returns from Brown hunt titles like Outfoxed to solve the murder of a local prep school teacher. Not a snob when it comes to class or looks, Sister is a tremendous snob regarding hunt etiquette and respect for animals. And in Brown's fictive world, every fox, hound, horse, dog and bird is given a name, personality, backstory and dialogue. All can converse with each other-and understand the humans-while Sister has the ability to sense what the animals are thinking. The hunt scenes are luminous; the plot is obligatory, if premised on politically inspiring grounds. When a group of students stages a demonstration focused on the unacknowledged role of slaves in the prep school's history, and a beloved staff member is found murdered, things get tense at Custis Hall. But the impending annual hunt ball (scene, of course, of the eventual denouement) provides ample distraction. No foxes were harmed in the writing of this book. (On sale Aug. 30) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 29, 2005
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Excerpt from The Hunt Ball by Rita Mae Brown
A shining silver shroud covered the lowlands along Broad Creek, deep and swift-running. The notes of the huntsman's horn, muffled, made his direction difficult to determine. Three young women, students at prestigious Custis Hall, followed the creek bed that bordered a cut hayfield. A gnarled tree, bending toward the clear water as if to bathe its branches, startled them.
"Looks like a giant witch," Valentina Smith blurted out.
They stopped to listen for hounds and the horn. Smooth gray stones jutted out of the creek, the water swirling and splashing around.
"Can you hear anything?" Felicity Porter, slender, serious, inquired.
"If we move away from the creek, we'll hear better." Valentina, as senior class president, was accustomed to taking charge.
Anne "Tootie" Harris, one of the best students at Custis Hall, was just as accustomed to resisting Valentina's assumed authority. "We'll get even more lost. Broad Creek runs south. It divides the Prescott land from Sister Jane's land. If we keep going we'll eventually reach the big old hog's back jump in the fence line. If we turn right at that jump we'll find the farm road back to the kennels."
Angry that she hadn't paid attention at the jump to where the rest of the riders disappeared into the fog, and now angry that she hadn't paid attention to the flow of Broad Creek, Valentina growled, "Well, shit, Tootie, we could go into menopause before we reach the hog's back jump!"
"One dollar, potty mouth." Felicity held out her hand with grim satisfaction.
"Felicity, how can you think of the kitty at a time like this? We could be lost for days. Why, we could die of thirst andý"
"Val, we're next to Broad Creek," Tootie deadpanned.
"You two are ganging up on me." Val tossed her head; her blonde ponytail, in a snood for riding, swayed slightly.
"No, we're not." Felicity rarely ran off the rails, her focus intense. "The deal when we started hunting with Jefferson Hunt was that each time one of us swore, one dollar to the kitty. I'm the bank."