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Fox Tracks by Rita Mae Brown

Fox Tracks” is from Rita Mae Brown’s “Sister” Jane Foxhunting Mysteries.  “Sister” is the 60-something master of the fox hounds for Jefferson Hunt in central Virginia in Brown’s books.  When a dead body is found underneath a dead deer near a spot where a fox goes to ground Sister gets involved in figuring out who the dead man was and why he died.  She discovers that the dead man was an itinerant worker who did some hauling for farmers in the area.  Sister suspects that he was hauling contraband– moonshine or tobacco– and did something that got him killed by his employers.  She also believes that the smugglers, who turn out to be moving cigarettes from low tax VA to higher tax states, are familiar with the routines of the Jefferson Hunt and the various barns and storage sheds in remote parts of the hunt territory.

Fox Tracks” is not one of my favorite Rita Mae Brown offerings.  I am not sufficiently interested in the technical details of fox hunting or tobacco growing to follow much of the description.  I also was not convinced that Brown made the best choice for her killer.  I will leave it at that because if I say more about the killer I’ll spill the beans.

Fox Tracks” is more for die-hard Rita Mae Brown enthusiasts and those who really enjoy her books about fox hunting.

Liz Nichols

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Sneaky Pie for President by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown

Rita Mae Brown takes a break from her best selling Mrs. Murphy Mystery series to let the animals speak up on the topics of politics and good government in “Sneaky Pie for President.”   The human in the Mrs. Murphy series, Virginia farmer and horsewoman, Harry Haristeen, only appears in passing in this book.  The novel, narrated by the gray tabby herself, Sneaky Pie, is not a mystery.  Sneaky Pie makes no mystery of where she stands on the issues of greatest importance to predator and prey alike.

In these pages Sneaky Pie with her dog and cat entourage visit many of the farm’s animal residents to campaign for a place at the top of the ticket for president of the United States.  Sneaky Pie has absolute confidence that a wise, opinionated and energetic tabby can do a better job in Washington than either Republican or Democratic human candidate.  The platform is, I suspect, partly meant to supply a few chuckles, and partly a convenient soapbox for some of Rita Mae Brown’s own political beliefs.  These beliefs do not owe their beginnings in either traditional party, but rather are more an  argument for environmentalism mixed with a healthy dose of libertarianism.

Sneaky Pie recognizes that it will never be possible to keep predators from preying on the animals they naturally hunt, but the process should be as humane as possible.  Those animals not required to eat meat in order to survive should abstain to a much larger extent than now happens.  Ecosystems must remain in balance for the good of every creature on earth.  Sneaky Pie sees usefulness in the services provided at the local and, to some extent, state level, but she has no use for income taxes and does not understand what the federal government does with all the money it collects.  Services are best funded and provided locally except for defense and a few other key areas.  Sneaky Pie believes in live and let live and treating all creatures by the golden rule.  No one should mess with another individual’s lifestyle or livelihood as long as no one else is being hurt. Sneaky Pie (and I would suspect her real mistress, Rita Mae) expresses fundamentally a libertarian philosophy in “Sneaky Pie for President.”  In the context of a fight for the White House by a house cat, the arguments make a lot of sense.

I found this political tome an interesting diversion from my usual mystery fare, and a fitting commentary for the end of the presidential political season.

Liz Nichols

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Review of Rita Mae Brown’s Cat of the Century

Brown takes some of the action to central Missouri where William Woods University is celebrating a fund-raiser in honor of Aunt Tally’s 100th birthday. Both Aunt Tally and her life-long friend, Inez, are graduates, along with several other Virginians. Harry Haristeen, the 40 year old Piedmont farmer from Crozet, VA, is not a graduate of William Woods, but she is determined to help Aunt Tally and Inez celebrate.

While the banquet for Aunt Tally is going on the group is worried at the disappearance of Mariah, one of the Alumnae board members who is from Kansas City. A few days after the event another board member is murdered and emails from Mariah claim responsibility. Did Mariah really do this? Is she after other members of the Board? Or is this a frame job, and is Mariah also dead? The usual cast of characters in this “Mrs. Murphy Mystery” are supplemented by a number of others, some of whom are real people from William Woods University, a school well known in horse riding circles.

As usual, Harry’s animals, supplemented by Tally and Inez’s dogs, help to solve the mystery. One not only has to suspend judgment about the capability of animals to be such astute sleuths, but also that centenarian, Aunt Tally, and 98 year old Inez can be so spry as to actually take down their attacker. I know a number of people who have reached that age, and they are rarely as spry as these two senior citizens.

I also have to admit, I wish that Rita Mae Brown would find something other than Libertarian politics to pontificate on in her books. That is getting quite old. I am sure there are readers who are devoted to her books specifically because she expresses the “best government is the least government” point of view.

In the end I guess I keep reading Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries quite religiously because she writes about a world that is so very different from my own. It is good to be reminded of the differences that make up our society and differences from one part of the country to another. Rural Piedmont Virginia is a world away from Iowa City, IA where I live–but quite close in character and sentiment to rural Northeast Iowa where I have many relatives in farming.

Liz Nichols

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