Hounded to Death

A Novel
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From New York Times bestselling author Rita Mae Brown comes the latest novel in her enthralling series of foxhunting mysteries. Richly imagined and utterly engaging, Hounded to Death reveals the cutthroat world of competitive hound shows as both humans and animals alike try to solve a series of bizarre deaths.

“Sister” Jane Arnold, esteemed master of the Jefferson Hunt Club, has traveled to Kentucky for one of the biggest events of the season: the Mid-South Hound Show, where foxhounds, bassets, and beagles gather to strut their champion bloodline stuff. But the fun is squelched when, immediately after the competition, one of the contestants, Mo Schneider, turns up dead–facedown, stripped to the waist, and peppered with birdshot. Universally detested by his peers, Mo had no shortage of enemies, making the list of suspects as long as the line for homemade pecan pie at a church bake sale.

Two weeks later, back in Virginia, Sister is rocked when her friend the popular veterinarian Hope Rogers dies from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Sister refuses to believe that Hope killed herself and vows to sniff out the truth. But before she can make real headway, a wealthy pet food manufacturer vanishes during the granddaddy of all canine exhibitions, the Virginia Hound Show.

Ever reliant on her “horse sense,” Sister can’t help but connect the three incidents. And what she uncovers will make her blood run colder than the bodies that keep turning up in unexpected places.

Thrilling adventures with horses and hounds, breathtaking vistas, furry friends, familiar faces–including Shaker Crown and the girls from Custis Hall–Rita Mae Brown weaves all these elements into a dazzling novel of suspense.

From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

PRAISE FOR RITA MAE BROWN

Hotspur

“Dashing and vibrant . . . The reader will romp through the book like a hunter on a thoroughbred, never stopping for a meal or a night’s sleep.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Full Cry

“A quality tale that is over all too soon.”
–Charleston Post and Courier

The Hunt Ball

“The hunt must go on, its grace and glory personified by the foxes, hounds and horses that provide these thrilling scenes with their on-the-ground perspective.”
–The New York Times Book Review

The Hounds and the Fury

“A genteel Virginia foxhunting club makes a delicious setting for murder. How pleasant to linger among the settees and brandy snifters waiting for the bodies to pile up!”
–Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Tell-Tale Horse

“Intriguing . . . Fans of the series will be fascinated with Jane’s evolution under Brown’s hand. With each book, Jane becomes more real–and more human–in the reader’s imagination.”
–Richmond Times-Dispatch

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Chapter 1
 
Rose twilight lingered over Shaker Village in central Kentucky, which, this Saturday, May 24, was hosting the MidAmerica Hound Show.
 
Jane Arnold, master of Jefferson Hunt Hounds in Virginia, drove alongside dry-laid stone walls, quietly relishing the village’s three thousand well-tended acres of land. It was as if the spirits of the Shakers hovered everywhere. Sister Jane, as she was known, respected the sect’s unswerving devotion to equality, peace, and love, qualities that suffused those past lives like the rose-lavender tinted twilight suffused the rolling pastures with ethereal beauty.
 
Pared-down functionalism, the essence of Shaker design, pure as fresh rainwater, prefigured later architectural and furniture development. Sister admired the care and intelligence the Shakers used to build their houses while fortifying their spirits with song and hard work.
 
Much as she admired their clean straight lines, she herself felt more at home in a mix of eighteenth-century exuberance allied with modern comfort.
 
She laughed to herself that her nickname, Sister Jane, meant she’d fit right in if only she could slip back in time to work alongside the Shakers. However, she’d soon have run afoul of the sisters and brothers as they did not practice sex, which had eventually resulted in the extinction of the sect. No one had ever accused Sister of being celibate.
 
Shaker ideas and ideals lived after them. Perhaps most people hope to leave something behind, usually in the form of progeny. But some are able to also impart inventions, artistic achievements, or new ways of seeing the same old problems.
 
What Sister hoped to leave behind was a love of the environment, belief in the protection of American farmland, and respect for all living creatures. Foxhunting was one of the best ways to do that because a person could inhale the best values while having more fun than the legal limit.
 
It pained her that so many people thought that foxes were killed in the hunt. Countless times she’d patiently explained that hunting practices in the United States were different from those in England. Given that the Mid-America Hound Show would be made up of foxhunters showing their best hounds, she breathed in relief. She wouldn’t need to have that conversation here.
 
Her new Subaru Forester followed the gray stone walls, rolling through a deep dip in the road, passing over a creek, and climbing a steep incline. She’d bought the SUV in hopes of saving a bit of money, seeing as her everyday vehicle was a big red gas-guzzling GMC half-ton truck. Like many Americans, she wanted to conserve fuel, but living out in the country made this a pipe dream.
 
Sister found pleasure in driving the handy little vehicle, which burned less gas, but she still had to use farm trucks for work. She couldn’t envision how that would change without driving the cost of food up to the point where there’d be bread riots like those that helped jump-start the French and Russian revolutions.
At the top of the steep hill, a flat green pasture beckoned, now silvery in May evening haze. In the middle of this lushness, surrounded by large trees, rested a two-story Shaker house, perfect in its simplicity, and just beyond the house were horse trailers converted for hound use. Sister drove to the Jefferson Hunt trailer, proudly displaying the JHC logo, a fox mask with two brushes crossed underneath.
 
Before she could step out of the car, Shaker Crown, her huntsman, a rugged curly-haired man in his early forties, dashed over to open the door. His Christian name had nothing to do with the Shaker sect. It had been his great-uncle’s name, bequeathed to him at birth.
 
“Boss, glad to see you.”
 
She teased him. “You’re glad to see me because I brought sandwiches and drinks.”
 
Before the sentence was out of her mouth, he’d lifted the back hatch of the Forester to retrieve a large cooler.
 
Tootie, a senior at Custis Hall, a private girls’ secondary school, slipped out of the trailer’s side door. “Food?”
 
“You poor starved thing.” Sister walked with Shaker as he plopped the cooler under the awning he’d set up off the side of the trailer.
 
Inside, a high covered fan ran to keep the six couple of hounds comfortable, a generator on the other side of the trailer providing the power. Kentucky could fool you in May, temperate one day and sweltering the next. Shaker and Sister put hound happiness before their own.
 
Tootie, full name Anne Harris, sat down in a director’s chair and Sister handed each of them a sandwich.
 
“Are you tired? How can you be tired at seventeen?”
 
The young woman grinned. She was exceedingly beautiful. “Just hit a low plateau. After this”—she held up the sandwich— “I’ll be right back up.”
 
“Sure. You just can’t keep up with an old lady in her seventies.”
 
“You’re not seventy, whatever.” Shaker eagerly unwrapped his turkey sandwich. “Your mother lied on your birth certificate.”
 
“That’s a joyful thought.” Sister could smell the tangy mustard on her roast beef and cheese sandwich. “Isn’t this the loveliest setting for a hound show? Sure, nothing’s as spectacular as the twin peaks of the Virginia Hound Show, or the Bryn Mawr Hound Show, but Shaker Village—well, to my mind it’s the best location.”
 
“That it is.” Shaker had already devoured half his sandwich.
“Glad I brought two of everything,” said Sister.
 
“I don’t know why I’m so hungry.”
 
“Sometimes I think it’s cycles. Ever notice how your appetite and your sleep patterns change whenever the seasons change? At least mine does.”
 
Tootie listened, as usual soaking everything up while remaining quiet.
 
“Yep, and I can’t sleep during a full moon.”
 
“Get up and howl, do you?” Sister smiled at her huntsman, whom she loved.
 
“I thought that was you.” Tootie slipped that in.
 
“Well, so much for respect from the young.” Sister laughed, which made Dragon, a hound, howl.
 
They all laughed.
 
“Does Woodford”—Tootie named the hosting hunt—“always have this show at Shaker Village?”
 
“No. Actually, they used to have it over at the Kentucky Horse Park, smack in the middle of Lexington, when Iroquois Hunt ran it for three years.” Shaker named the other hunt outside of Lexington, Kentucky. “The Horse Park is a hotbed of activity. What a draw it’s become for tourists. Anyway, I sure hope Woodford keeps it here even though its half an hour from Lexington.”
 
Sister greatly admired Jane Winegardner, MFH of Woodford Hounds, whom she knew better than the two other joint masters, hard-hunting men. She always referred to Miss Winegardner as “O.J.” for “the Other Jane.”
 
A familiar voice sounded from behind the trailer. Hope Rogers, DVM, popped round and greeted them under the awning. “Party?”
 
“Sit down, honey.” Sister pointed to a director’s chair. “When did you get here?”
 
Hope, an equine vet specializing in lameness, most particularly navicular disease, kept a practice five miles from the Jefferson Hunt kennels. In her late thirties, she’d become a hot commodity in the equine world, being flown to Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, and Austria to present her findings on degenerative diseases causing lameness. Her travels now comprised a great chunk of her practice, requiring her to take on a partner, Dan Clement, which was working out quite nicely.
 
“Last night. Had a lecture at the University of Kentucky. That facility knocks me out every time I go there.”
“Better than Virginia Tech or the Marion DuPont Center?” Shaker named two outstanding Virginia equine facilities.
 
“As a Virginian, I can’t answer that.”
 
“Ah.” Sister pointed to the cooler as Hope shook her head.
 
“Saving myself for the party at the kennels.” She checked her watch. “There’s a little time left but I want to wash up first. Wish I could stay for the show tomorrow, but I’ve got to get back. At least I’ll see old friends at the party.”
 
“O.J.’s been whirling around like the white tornado.” Shaker laughed. “You know O.J., she checks and rechecks everything, a born organizer. She’s over at Woodford kennels now.”
 
“I’ll catch up with her there.” Hope reached into the cooler for a Mountain Dew. The caffeine hit would carry her through until she reached the party.
 
“Get to the back pastures of any farms?” Sister knew Hope had a wealth of contacts in the Thoroughbred world.
 

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