February 07, 2000 12:00 PM

by Rita Mae Brown

Fans of author, screenwriter and poet Rita Mae Brown (Rubyfruit Jungle) will likely remember her crime-busting cat Mrs. Murphy from mysteries like 1997’s Murder, She Meowed. So it’s no big surprise that from the opening tallyho of Brown’s Outfoxed—set in Virginia’s hunt country—the animals do a lot of the talking. And some of the smarter thinking, too, as a skulk of foxes prove when they turn detective to help investigate the murder of Fontaine Buruss, an aging playboy who belongs to the financially strapped but socially prestigious Jefferson Hunt Club.

Much of the plot revolves around the public jousting for power within the club, as two men—Buruss and his wealthy Yankee rival, Crawford Howard—vie to succeed respected horsewoman Jane “Sister” Howard as the group’s master of foxhounds. Brown lards her tale with details about foxhunting history, decorum and dress, creating atmospherics as engaging as the sleuthing critters. She also succeeds in conjuring a world in which prey are meant to survive the chase and foxes are knowing collaborators (with hunters and hounds) in the rarefied rituals that define the sport. And despite some slapdash writing here and there the plot is sufficiently compelling to carry readers through to a surprise finish. (Ballantine, $24)

Bottom Line: Sly whodunit

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