Tuesday, May 13, 2008

HEX . . .

My sister and I share a passion for equine mysteries which began way back in 1977, when I discovered Dick Francis’s IN THE FRAME--the fateful book that shoved my life’s path off course. After reading ITF, I read every book that Francis had published at the time, quit my government job, and went to work in the horse industry, where I stayed for 25 years.

I also introduced Francis’s mysteries to my sister, and thus began a gift-giving tradition between us. Francis’s books are released in October, so every Christmas thereafter, my sister would give me his latest release. I have to admit, it was sometimes tough waiting those two months before I could get my hands on his next mystery, but the wait was always worth it.

Nowadays, when my sister stumbles upon other equine mysteries, she passes them along to me once she’s read them, and HEX by Maggie Estep was one of those books.

HEX is not your typical equine mystery, though. The main character, Ruby Murphy, eventually goes undercover at Belmont Racetrack; although, the equine element is secondary, story-wise, to Ruby Murphy’s unique life and friends. You could even say that the mystery is in third place--HEX not being your typical mystery. In fact, if no one had been murdered in the entire book, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

What HEX is, is beautifully written, fun, and compelling. The lyrical, intelligent writing comes as no surprise since Estep is a poet. The book’s format is different, as well, consisting of possibly five, first-person, point-of-view narratives.

One horsey aspect that I found quite interesting and unique was the description of a horse stable in Harlem (I believe) near the beach. Okay, New York’s geography is totally obscure to me, so I have no idea if this is even remotely possible, but . . . it sounded cool. I wonder if the place truly exists.

HEX is followed by two other Ruby Murphy mysteries: FLAMETHROWER and GARGANTUAN. I’m looking forward to reading both. For more information, visit Maggie’s website: http://www.maggieestep.com/index.html

Happy reading

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Serendipity . . .

I give a lot of thought to my characters’ names, both human and equine. When I was writing my Kentucky Derby mystery, TRIPLE CROSS, I needed to name several Thoroughbreds who would become characters in the book, and as a necessary component of the mystery, I needed to develop their pedigrees, too. I wanted the pedigrees to sound familiar to the reader, so, I turned to the Jockey Club’s foal registry.

I also wanted to make sure that my story’s equine characters (the ones who lived and breathed in the story and won or lost races, etc.) were not named after horses currently racing. So for those horses, I used the registry to make sure I wasn’t duplicating a real name.

Anyway, Steve’s father was running a racehorse, Gallant Storm, in the Derby. One of his main competitors, and a significant character in the book, was Gone Wild. I liked that name for him because his connections’ wealth came from Kentucky’s oil and gas exploration industry where “wildcat” is a common term. So, once I decided on Gone Wild, I had to find a pedigree to suit him. I decided that his sire would be the very real Gone West.

So, I’m down in Louisville for Derby week, 2005. I stayed Derby weekend at the fabulous 1888 Historic Rocking Horse Manor on 3rd Street. As is tradition, the manor’s guests draw names, and if your horse wins, you win the pot. Well, who should be running that year, but a colt named Going Wild? And whose name did a draw? Yep, you got it. Going Wild.

1888 Historic Rocking Horse Manor in Louisville

Unfortunately, we both lost.

But the names keep cropping up. A couple of weeks ago, I met a dear, elderly woman at a book club event in Cincinnati, the kind of person you feel you’ve known your entire life. She’s eighty-three and only quit riding two years ago! Her current horse is a Thoroughbred who didn’t really care for racing, and guess who his sire is? Gone West! She was so tickled to find a reference to her horse’s stud in the book.

Keeps me wondering what other connections are waiting to be made.

Happy reading,