Friday’s Forgotten Book: Hunt with the Hounds by Mignon G. Eberhart

Mignon G. Eberhart, 1899-1996, was a prolific author of mysteries and romantic suspense. Her long career began in 1929 with a mystery featuring Sara/Sally Keate, a nurse in New York, who was Eberhart’s only series character. Keate featured in seven books. The rest of Eberhart’s prodigious output consisted of 53 stand-alone novels and several collections of short stories. She received the Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America in 1971.

Hunt with the Hounds (Random House, 1950) was released about midway in Eberhart’s publishing career. This nice locked-room mystery is set in the small town of Bedford in central Virginia, in fox hunting country. It opens with the acquittal of Jed Bailey, who has been on trial for the murder of his wife Ernestine. The eyewitness testimony of Sue Poore, who said she saw Jed sitting in his car while she was at the front door of the house ringing the doorbell when the fatal shots were fired inside, was key to his exoneration. Jed had been openly pursuing Sue despite his married state, to the dismay of everyone around him including Sue. Since Sue and Jed were the only people known to be in the vicinity at the time Ernestine was killed, after the trial the police focus their attention on proving her to be the killer. Sue is utterly taken aback and her family and friends, including the local police chief who has known Sue all her life, do their best to show the state police captain he is mistaken.

The action unfolds against the backdrop of fox hunting, which is taken very seriously by the area residents, who ride to hounds nearly every day during the season. A fair amount of detail about fox hunting is included but not as much as is found in the Sister Jane Arnold mysteries by Rita Mae Brown. Mostly what becomes apparent is the long-buried resentments and rivalries of people who grew up together in an area where social status is a major consideration, so people hold on to it by any means at all. Eberhart cleverly diverts suspicion in first one direction, then another, until the final revelation in the last chapter. Of interest to mystery readers who value careful plots and characterization and small town settings.

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