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November 21, 2019

Scarlet Fever by Rita Mae Brown ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

Scarlet Fever, the 12th book in Rita Mae Brown's Sister Jane series, is a bit different than most cozy mysteries I read. But it is still filled with fun characters. If you are fan of books with animal characters then you might want to check out this book.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

November 2019; Ballantine Books; 978-0593130001
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); cozy mystery
I first discovered Rita Mae Brown when I read Whiskers in the Dark (read my review), a book in her somewhat related Mrs. Murphy series, this past spring. Like that book, this series also focuses on hunting dogs. While in Whiskers in the Dark the dogs are Bassetts, in Scarlet Fever the dogs are foxhounds. Outside of a couple of episodes of Downton Abbey, I'm not really familiar with fox hunting. So it made me curious about reading a cozy mystery with such an activity.

If you are like me and don't know a thing about fox hunting, there is a glossary of terms at the beginning of the book. There is also a list of characters so even if you haven't read any of the other books, like me, in the series you will know who is who. I usually like having a refresher of characters, but since I haven't read any of the books in this series it felt like an overwhelming info dump, particularly when paired with the glossary of hunting terms. Seriously, my eyes were crossing - it is a huge ensemble cast that includes people, dogs, horses, and foxes. I think figuring out who is who came out naturally in the story, so I think you are safe in skipping the list of characters.

It wasn't the fox hunting that made this unique (though I don't know of any other fox hunting cozies). No, what was different about this book is that the focus was not on the murder. There is no amateur detective. Even the police are in the background. Actually most of the investigating takes place off the page. The process of the investigation is relayed largely through gossip. The focus of the story is largely on the fox hunting and the relationships of the people that are part of the community, which does play into a secondary mystery.

Because of the focus on the fox hunts, I felt that the book was very visual which I struggle with in a book. I had trouble picturing the action taking place because the terms were unfamiliar. And partly I don't get the point of fox hunting. Thankfully the fox always made it to its den and the dogs didn't catch the fox.

I enjoyed how the characters played off each other. They are mostly older characters which is a nice change from all the stories featuring 20 and 30 somethings. They are at the age where they can speak their minds and there were hints of commentary on current events and issues. Of course, it all was covered in a veneer of southern charm. Like in Whiskers in the Dark, there is some emphasis on first. But unlike in Whiskers in the Dark where the history was more along the lines of the American Revolution and the Civil War, this history was more like the first century. There's even a conversation where a name of ancient history is mentioned and one character expresses surprise that the other character knows who that was and that explains that she is an educated woman. Maybe I read a bit too much into it, but her comment reeked of snobbishness. I mean, I'm a college-educated woman, but I had no idea who that person was. Does that mean I'm stupid? Because that is how it sounded. But again, maybe I read too much into it.

Along the same lines, the display of wealth was a little annoying and it made them feel more like characters rather than real people. I'm glad that Sister balked at the $20,000 price tag of a French reproduction desk. But then another character didn't think twice about purchasing a ring that sold for like $7,000. There didn't seem to be any regular folks to balance out the wealthy.

The writing was good, the story plotted well, and I enjoyed the interactions between the characters, but overall it wasn't my kind of story. If you enjoy fox hunting or how the other half lives, then this would be a good story for you.

Buy Scarlet Fever at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. the author's name rings a bell and that cute cover makes me caught my eye. sorry you didn't work for you
    sherry @ fundinmental