Dead on the Trail by Susan Williamson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Dead on the Trail is a fun whodunit that becomes a great read due to the fascinating details of its setting.
The novel takes place on a horse farm run by Molly Lewis and her husband John. Molly is exercising her horse, Kip, on a trail partially owned by the couple from whom they rent the farm and partially by their neighbor. Molly's dog, Bingo, is following her when he senses something off to the side of the trail. It turns out to be a dead body. Once the victim is identified, he turns out to be someone who was almost universally disliked, which means there are plenty of people with motives. The police show up, but they are fairly useless, so it falls on Molly to investigate. All the characters are interesting whether they are friends of Molly, suspects, or police.
For the first part of the book Molly's husband is out of town, judging a horse show. Molly needs to take care of their farm while she looks into the murder. She's spending time cleaning stalls, feeding and exercising horses, dealing with sick horses, giving riding lessons, working on ways to increase the farm's income, and playing nursemaid to her landlord's troubled daughter, Sarah. All these tasks increase the pressure on Molly and the tension in the plot. Here's a sample of the detail:
First up was Betsy in a walk, trot canter class for riders 14-17. The practice show started with the more advanced riders in hopes that the horses would be tired and slow by the time the little riders came along. The classes were judged on the rider, not the horse, but a good horse always made the rider look better. Betsy was showing Honey for the first time. Honey, a former show mare, would be up for the class, the challenge would be to make her walk. Molly gave her a leg up and they went to the make-up ring early. The mare looked around, but settled quickly to work.
Most people who know something about the horse industry know it from the side of the customers. These are people who love animals, love competition, and love being outdoors. It's a pricey hobby, but one that can provide an escape from day to day stress. Dead on the Trail shows the horse industry from the side of the farm managers. These are people who have to learn how to market their lessons, their horses for sale, and their boarding facilities. They have to work hard, physically. They have to be willing to give up a horse they care about if someone offers the right price. And they have to understand horse health enough to call the vet when necessary, but not to waste money on calls that aren't needed. This is a 24/7 occupation, but these people wouldn't be in the industry if they didn't love the animals. They make sacrifices for that love.
Dead on the Trail is a perfect book for readers who like mysteries and horses.
Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions
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