This novel is Rita Mae Brown's third in a series of mysteries set
in the arcane milieu of Virginia foxhunting. At 70, Jane Arnold,
better known as "Sister," must choose a co-master of the foxhounds.
Through fancy parties and dashing hunts, the reader is introduced
to the men and women who will be affected by this choice. As usual,
the nouveau riche must not be slighted, and the snooty old timers
must be assuaged. Both the decision and the announcement challenge
Sister's skills in diplomacy.
The jealousies and secret motivations of her fellow hunters are
exposed when Sam Lorillard is hired by one of the nouveau riche
crowd to train their horses. No one doubts Sam is a good horseman,
but he's also a recovering alcoholic who has literally and
figuratively screwed many of Sister's fellow hunters in the past.
Fair-minded Sister is inclined to reserve judgment, especially
considering her increasingly warm feelings for Sam's older brother
Meanwhile, her old friend Anthony Tolliver turns up dead at the
train station, where the drunks hang out. It's the second
suspicious death there, and the ever-alert Jane begins to follow
the pieces as they turn up. Then there's a mysterious fire that
kills a truck driver in a warehouse owned by one of the hunters,
insured by another. Both of these men were friends of Sister's only
son, who died when he was fourteen. With long knowledge of their
characters and clues from Sam, who was no stranger to the train
station drunks, Sister forms her suspicions and forces the issue
during a final exciting hunt, where the culprit, like the fox, is
FULL CRY should have been much better edited. Even the dust jacket
copy is sloppy, stating that Sam Lorillard was the old-friend/drunk
killed early in the story, not Anthony Tolliver. Considering that
Sam is a fairly major character who indeed lives until the end of
the book, this indicates to me that someone wasn't paying
attention. Here's Sister in a conversation: "Guess I was
remembering that fabulous runner, Ben Johnson, the Canadian
sprinter who set a record for the hundred-meter dash at the 1987
World Championships, and won the Gold Medal at the 1988 Olympics,
and then forfeited it when he admitted to steroid use." Now, we
know Sister is wise and articulate, but read the sentence aloud and
ask yourself if anyone you know (other than a politician) could or
would rattle that off. In another, more descriptive section, Ms.
Brown ends three sentences in a row with the word "ridge." This
struck me as unmusical and just plain lazy.
Other parts are beautiful, concise and elegant: "To see such
beauty, to observe a fox in a winter coat, to inhale the sharp tang
of pine as one rode fast underneath, to listen to Athena call in
the night, to feel the earth tight underneath giving way to a bog
festooned with silver, black, and beige shrubs shorn of raiment,
such things convinced her that life was divine."
I've read and been impressed by several other novels by Ms. Brown.
This one felt too much like a first draft, cranked out to meet a
deadline. In short, I expected more from Rita Mae Brown.
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman-Nicol on January 22, 2011