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Full Cry [Hardcover]

Rita Mae Brown
2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 4 2003 Brown, Rita Mae
In the third novel of her captivating foxhunting series, Rita Mae Brown welcomes readers back for a final tour of a world where most business is conducted on horseback–and stables are de rigueur for even the smallest of estates. Here, in the wealth-studded hills of Jefferson County, Virginia, even evil rides a mount.

The all-important New Year’s Hunt commences amid swirling light snow. It is the last formal hunt of the season; therefore, participation is required no matter how hungover riders are from toasting the midnight before. On this momentous occasion, “Sister” Jane Arnold, master of the foxhounds, announces her new joint master and the new president of the Jefferson Hunt. And her choices will prove to be no less than shocking.

The day’s festivities are quickly marred, though, by what appears on the surface to be an unrelated tragedy. Sam Lorillard, former shining star and Harvard Law School alum, lies dead of a stab wound on a baggage cart at the old train station, surrounded by the outcasts and vagabonds who composed his social circle at the end of life. No one can remember when Sam started drinking, but the downward spiral was swift–and seemingly deadly.

Murder is followed by scandal when Sister Jane discovers dishonest hunting practices going on in a neighboring club. Unsure whether to turn a blind eye or report the infringement to the proper authority, Sister and her huntsman, Shaker Crown, decide to investigate a little further, with the help of their trusty hounds. But when they come a little too close to the staggering truth–and uncover an unforeseen connection to Lorillard’s murder–they realize they might not survive to see the next New Year’s Hunt.

Intricate, witty, and full of the varied voices of creatures both great and small, Full Cry is an astute reminder that even those with the bluest of blood still bleed red.

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About the Author

Rita Mae Brown is the bestselling author of Rubyfruit Jungle, In Her Day, Six of One, Southern Discomfort, Sudden Death, High Hearts, Bingo, Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writers’ Manual, Venus Envy, Dolley: A Novel of Dolley Madison in Love and War, Riding Shotgun, Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser, Loose Lips, and Outfoxed. An Emmy-nominated screenwriter and a poet, she lives in Afton, Virginia.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

A bloodred cardinal sparkled against the snow-covered ground. He’d dropped from his perch to snatch a few bits of millet still visible by the red chokeberry shrubs scattered at the edge of the field. The snow base, six inches, obscured most of the seeds that the flaming bird liked to eat, but light winds kept a few delicacies dropping, including some still-succulent chokeberry seeds.

Low gunmetal gray clouds, dense as fog in some spots, hung over the fresh white snow. In the center of this lovely thirty-acre hayfield on Orchard Hill Farm stood a lone sentinel, a 130-foot sugar maple. Surrounding the hayfield were forests of hardwoods and pine.

Two whitetail deer bolted over the three-board fence. Deer season ran from mid-November to January 2 in this part of Virginia. Those benighted humans who had yet to reach their legal bag limit might be found squatting in the snow on this December 27, a cold Saturday.

Bolting across the field in the direction opposite the deer came two sleek foxhounds. At first the cardinal, now joined by his mate, did not notice the hounds. The millet was too tasty. But when the birds heard the ruckus, they raised their crests and fluttered up to the oak branches as the hounds sped by.

Before the birds could drop back to their feast, four more hounds raced past, snow whirling up behind their paws like iridescent confetti.

In the distance, a hunting horn blew three long blasts, the signal for hounds to return.

Jane Arnold, Master of Foxhounds for the Jefferson Hunt Club, checked her advance just inside the forest at the westernmost border of the hayfield. The snowfall increased, huge flakes sticking to the horse’s coat for a moment, to her eyelashes. She felt the cool, moist pat of flakes on her red cheeks. As she exhaled, a stream of breath also came from her mount, a lovely bold thoroughbred, Rickyroo.

Behind her, steam rising from their mounts’ hindquarters and flanks, were fifty-four riders. Ahead was the huntsman, Shaker Crown, a wiry man in his middle forties, again lifting the hunting horn to his lips. The bulk of the pack, twenty couple—hounds are always counted in twos or couples—obediently awaited their next order.

Sister cast her bright eyes over the treetops. Chickadees, wrens, and one woodpecker peered down at her. No foxes had just charged through here. Different birds had different responses to a predator like a fox. These creatures would have been disturbed, moved about. Crows, ravens, and starlings, on the other hand, would have lifted up in a flock and screamed bloody murder. They loathed being disturbed and despised foxes to the marrow of their light bones.

On Sister’s left, a lone figure remained poised at the fence line. If Shaker moved forward, then the whipper-in, Betty Franklin, would take the old tiger trap jump and keep well to the left. Betty, a wise hunter, knew not to press on too far ahead. The splinter of the pack, which had broken now, veered to the right, and the second whipper-in, Sybil Hawkes, was already in pursuit well away across the hayfield.

Whether Sybil could turn the three couple of hounds troubled Sister. A pack should stay together—easier said than done. Sister blamed herself for this incident. It takes years and years, decades really, to build a level pack of hounds. She had included too many first-year entry—the hound equivalent of a first grader—in to- day’s hunt.

First-year entry sat in the kennels for Christmas Hunt, which had been last Saturday. Christmas Hunt, the third of the High Holy Days of hunting, overflows with people and excitement. Both she and her huntsman, whom Sister adored, felt the Christmas Hunt would have been too much for the youngsters. Today she should have taken only one couple, not the four included in this pack. Shaker had mentioned this to her, but she had waved him off, saying that the field wouldn’t be that large today, as many riders would still be recuperating from the rigors of Christmas. There had been over one hundred people for Christmas Hunt, but she had half that today, still a good number of folks.

The hounds loved hunting in the snow. For the young entry this was their first big snow, and they just couldn’t contain themselves.

She sat on Rickyroo who sensed her irritation. Sister felt a perfect ass. She’d hunted all her life, and, at seventy-two, it was a full life. How could she now be so damned stupid?

Luckily, most people behind her knew little about the art of foxhunting, and it was an art not a science. They loved the pageantry, the danger, the running and jumping, its music. A few even loved the hounds themselves. Out of that field of fifty-four people, perhaps eight or nine really understood foxhunting. And that was fine by Sister. As long as people respected nature, pro- tected the environment, and paid homage to the fox—a genius wrapped in fur—she was happy. Foxhunting was like baseball: a person needn’t know the difference between a sinker and a slider when it crossed home plate in order to enjoy the game. So long as people knew the basics and behaved themselves on horseback, she was pleased. She knew better than to expect anyone to behave when off a horse.

She observed Shaker. Every sense that man possessed was working overtime, as were hers. She drew in a cold draught of air, hoping for a hint of information. She listened intently and could hear, a third of a mile off, the three couple of hounds speaking for all they were worth. Perhaps they hit a fresh line of scent. In this snow, the scent would have to be fresh, just laid from the fox’s paws. The rest of the pack watched Shaker. If scent were burning, surely Cora or Diana, Dasher or Ardent would have told them. But then the youngsters had broken off back in the woods. Had the pack missed the line? With an anchor hound like the four-year-old Diana, now in her third season, this was unlikely. Young though she was, this particular hound was following in the paw prints of one of the greatest anchor hounds Sister had ever known, Archie, gone to his reward and remembered with love every single day.

Odd how talent appears in certain hounds, horses, and humans. Diana definitely had it. She now faced the sound of the splinter group, stern level, head lifted, nose in the air. Something was up.

Behind Sister, Dr. Walter Lungrun gratefully caught his breath. The run up to this point had been longer than he realized, and he needed a break. Wealthy Crawford Howard, convivial as well as scheming, passed his flask around. It was accepted with broad smiles from friend and foe alike. Crawford subscribed to the policy that a man should keep his friends close and his enemies closer still. His wife, Marty, an attractive and intelligent woman, also passed around her flask. Crawford’s potion was a mixture of blended scotch, Cointreau, a dash of bitters, with a few drops of fresh lemon juice. Liberally consumed, it hit like a sledgehammer.

Tedi and Edward Bancroft, impeccably turned out and true foxhunters, both in their seventh decade, listened keenly. Their daughter, Sybil, in her midforties, was the second whipper-in. She had her work cut out for her. They knew she was a bold rider, so they had no worries there. But Sybil, in her second year as an honorary whipper-in (as opposed to a professional) fretted over every mistake. Sybil’s parents and two sons would buoy her up after each hunt since she was terribly hard on herself.

Betty Franklin loved whipping-in, but she knew there were moments when Great God Almighty couldn’t control a hound with a notion. She was considerably more relaxed about her duties than Sybil.

Also passing around handblown glass flasks, silver caps engraved with their initials, were Henry Xavier (called Xavier or X), Clay Berry, and Ronnie Haslip—men in their middle forties. These high-spirited fellows had been childhood friends of Ray Arnold Jr. Sister’s son, born in 1960, had been killed in 1974 in a harvesting accident. The boys had been close, the Four Musketeers.

Sister had watched her son’s best friends grow up, graduate from college. Two had married, all succeeded in business. They were very dear to her.

After about five minutes, Shaker tapped his hat with his horn, leaned down, and spoke encouragingly to Cora, his strike hound. She rose up on her hind legs to get closer to this man she worshipped. Then he said, “Come long,” and his pack obediently followed as he rode out of the forest, taking the second tiger trap jump as Betty Franklin took the first. If the pack and the huntsman were a clock, the strike hound being at twelve, Betty stayed at ten o’clock, Sybil at two, the huntsman at six.

Sister, thirty yards behind Shaker, sailed over the tiger trap. Most of the other riders easily followed, but a few horses balked at the sight of the upright logs, leaning together just like a trap. The snow didn’t help the nervous; resting along the crevices, it created an obstacle that appeared new and different.

As riders passed the sugar maple, Cora began waving her stern. The other hounds became interested.

Dragon, a hotheaded but talented third-year hound and the brother to Diana, bellowed, “It’s her! It’s her!”

The thick odor of a vixen lifted off the snow.

Cora, older, and steady even though she was the strike hound, paused a moment. “Yes, it is a vixen, but something’s not quite right.”

Diana, her older brother, Dasher, and Asa and Ardent also paused. At nine, the oldest hound in the pack, Delia, mother of the D litters, usually brought up the rear. While her youthful speed had diminished, her knowledge was invaluable. Delia, too, put her nose to the snow.

The other hounds looked at her, even her brash son, Dragon. “It’s a vixen all right, but it is extremely peculiar,” Delia advised.

“Well, maybe she ate something...

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Winner for Rita Mae Brown July 6 2004
By A Customer
I'm a big fan of Brown's novels and mysteries, and her latest, "Full Cry," did not disappoint me.
I was hooked from the first pages. It's a great read, especially for horse lovers, giving us an up-close look at the fox-hunting culture - particularly Virginia's deeply traditional version. According to her, for example, fox hunters prefer not to kill healthy foxes at the end of a hunt; instead, they are "run to ground" and left to run another day. According to her, the foxes actually come to enjoy the chase. Could this really be true?
Not only is the plot fascinating, including an unusual twist on a murder mystery - who IS killing all those drunks down at the train station, and why? - it's also packed with odds and ends of information. The reader learns, for instance, much about the history of fox hunting and the training of the dogs; perhaps more even than horse-related information.
As always, Brown's animal-empathetic technique of allowing them a point of view and voice as characters in their own right, remains an improbable but enchanting hallmark of her style. In this novel, Brown demonstrates a deeply empathetic concern for the minorities and the marginal in society. I can agree with her there, although sometimes she does fall into a bit of preachiness.
Altogether, however, a wonderful read, especially appealing to animal lovers.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Sadly, disappointing April 18 2004
By A Customer
Others have written this book is disappointing because the book description and inside flap blurb don't match the story. This is the least of the novel's problems! I have to preface my review by stating that I'm horse owner, all-around animal lover, and have read all of Rita Mae's work. I'm a big fan.
In the case of this novel, I am baffled that her editor didn't ask her to go back to the drawing board, and I wondered if a crazed fan stole an early rough draft of the book from her desk drawer and somehow got it published on the sly. More bothersome than the fact that foxhunting triva seems to eclipse the mystery storyline is the tendency for Brown to use the novel as vehicle for two things: her opinions on human nature, and a "how-to" manual for rural life. It just got so tedious! Lists of brands her characters prefer, how to fix a hole if a dog digs under the fence, how the Ford F350 Dually handles for everyday driving (she writes about those friggin' trucks in every novel. Enough, please!), how to interpret a foxhound pedigree--geeeeez.
The characters aren't interesting or fully developed, and this seems like unedited stream-of-consciousness rather than a well-crafted tale--which is what Brown usually produces. I'll continue to buy her work, and sure hope this one is the exception.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of my time April 18 2004
Usually, I love Rita Mae Brown's work--especially the Mrs. Murphy series. I recently got into the Jane Arnold series, and was very excited to read this book. However, within the first 50 pages, my excitement vanished and was replaced with bewilderment.
First off, unless I fell asleep for a while, the murder of "Sam Lorillard, former shining star and Harvard Law School alum, [who is found] ... dead of a stab wound on a baggage cart at the old train station..." never takes place. Sam is still alive and well by the end of the book.
Aside from this glaringly obvious mistake, I found myself wading through page after page of what very well may be Brown's personal pontifications on life, drugs, the state of youth, and illiteracy, all thinly disguised as her characters' opinions during tedious conversations.
I did enjoy the many hunting scenes in this novel. Although heavy on details only a foxhunter would love, Brown does do a fair job of relating the "thrill of the chase" to her readers. It remains to be seen whether I will bother reading her next Jane Arnold attempt.
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1.0 out of 5 stars What book did I read? Jan. 29 2004
By A Customer
After greatly enjoying the Mrs Murphy mysteries as well as "Outfoxed", I couldn't wait to read "Full Cry". It was a big disappointment. First, the blurb on the cover described a plot that had nothing to do with this book. So what book was it for? At least the blurb sounded interesting. Second, the book was supposed to be a mystery, instead it was either a primer for foxhunting or a romance - I never was sure which and wanted to read neither. The plot was rambling, mostly invisible and seemed like an afterthought, mostly ignored during the main part of the book. The book itself was far too preachy and devoid of many of the things that kept up interest in her other books. The animals were chatty, but either preachy or saying nothing. The foxhunting got overwhelming. How many hunts can you read about in which nothing happens to move the plot along? Unlike her other books, this one seemed to hang up on small details, like the color of Sister's makeup or how many pieces made up a glove. None of this moved the plot along or even contributed to it. It was a very disappointing book. Instead of buying this book, go visit your local library. That way you won't feel taken when the book turns out to be far from what it is represented to be.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good writer, not her best book... Jan. 6 2004
I don't mind if fictional authors occasionally spout some social or moral opinions in their books, usually through their protagonist. Almost all writers do it to some extent or another. But when the length of the book is dependent upon that soap-box preaching, and when the mystery takes such a back seat to that preaching that it is hard to remember what the plot is about, then the writer has gone too far. I enjoy Rita Mae Brown's books. I enjoy this particular series having to do with fox hunting in the U.S. because I suspect if I had been raised in Virginia, I'd be out on the horses too. I really enjoy the backgrounds and historial information that Brown gives in her books. And the anthromorphizing of the hounds, horses, and foxes does not bother me in the least. I've always suspected some animals are smarter then humans anyway...I know many dogs and horses who are nicer then most people.
But...having said all that, Ms. Brown needs to decide whether she wants to sermonize or write a mystery. If she wants to break into nonfiction genre, go for it. But preaching is going to alienate her mystery choir (audience), and it tends to slow down the books and make the books less well-written.
This is a decent book, by a decent author...but newbies to Rita Mae Brown should start with another of her older books, because this one left much to be desired.
Karen Sadler
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Off Track
Brown wqas simply not up to par! I found it a struggle to get through the book when usally I can't put them down. It was obviosly a gross mistake as far as jacket blurb goes. Read more
Published on July 11 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing to read
I am a fan of Rita Mae Brown, but I was very confused when I read the inside cover and then read the book! Who was in charge of writing the inside cover summary. Read more
Published on March 22 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Who's Outfoxed This Time?
Like many others, I am a great fan of Rita Mae Brown's Sneaky Pie books. The other two foxhunting books, while a bit too much boilerplate about the sport, were readable. Read more
Published on Feb. 26 2004 by Beverly Seaton
2.0 out of 5 stars Very poor editing on the audio edition
This was the first audio version of the author's work I have heard. If this is a sample of the quality of editing I will steer clear of the others. Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected
I am listening to the CD audio version of this book. I am very disappointed. The author is reading her book and she has made several mistakes, garbled words and begun over. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars only for foxers
First I have to admit to a Rita Mae Brown bias; I love her work. However, this is just not up to par. Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful but the publisher better read the flap!!!!
I would have loved this book if it were just about foxhunting, one of my passions, but of course Brown writes a great read (and I'm not a mystery fan at all). Read more
Published on Dec 10 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Loyal reader to the end....regardless.
Dittos on the huge fan of Rita Mae (and Sneaky Pie too!!!). I love this particular series having been in Charlottesville and seen the gorgeousness of all things Foxhunt. Read more
Published on Dec 9 2003 by J. Schmitt
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