YOU’RE WRITING A NOVEL ABOUT WHAT?
My critique colleagues in Virginia were shocked. “About horses that get killed,” I told them. I had good reason. In my home state of New York, where I learned to ride, I had read an article by a vet that still resonated with me. What that anonymous man or woman said was the starting point for my first novel, The Case of the Three Dead Horses, thus turning me into a novelist. Writing the novel, in turn, led to my horse protection web site.
The vet’s story was short, its message brutal. Writing immediately after finishing a necropsy, the anonymous vet said that the horse had died in such a way that its murder could not be confirmed. The killer would have had to have a veterinary’s knowledge of equine anatomy to perform the murder. Because nothing could be proved, the owner would get a large insurance settlement. The tone of the article was tired, bitter. The vet had seen too many murderers rewarded when the method of killing was hard to prove. An insurance company somewhere was on the hook once again. What must have been maddening was the necessity for anonymity. Whistle-blower vets lose clients and may be in physical danger.
Slowly I accumulated evidence about the crime of killing horses. I discovered that no one likes to talk or write about it. On a research trip to Kentucky, I strained to hear the words as a woman whispered a sad story; back home in Virginia, a man wanted me to write an article about horse abuse but his veterinarian friend, who had told the man about it, refused to cooperate with me.
Like all equine fiction writers, I wanted to tell a horse-centered story, in this case, a mystery, with an entertaining, fast-paced plot and characters the reader would have strong feelings about.
Eventually, my novel took shape, the leading character, equine insurance investigator Connie Holt, who has her first experience with the crime of killing horses. Since I lived in beautiful Virginia, I set the story in horse country there. As the novel unfolded, I found myself inventing a lustful state cop, a wealthy, arrogant client, a vet who doesn’t return Connie’s love, and an assortment of other characters, all of whom play a part in her investigation to discover how the horses were killed, why they were murdered, and who ended their lives. One of the joys was creating the horses in Connie’s community, both valuable, highly-bred horses like Woolwine, Quicksilver Magical Pete, Finn Maccumhail, and Ali Ben Bahir, and less prestigious but equally lovable horses like George, Sam and Suzie.
Here’s an excerpt. Connie Holt is on call. At a breeding farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a horse lies dead in his stall and there are other complications. Read on:
When the phone on her bedside table rang, waking her out of a deep, dreamless sleep, insurance agent Connie Holt groaned. She’d spent the day visiting three farms to discuss complicated insurance claims the owners had submitted to the McCutcheon Equine Insurance Agency. Since the farms were widely separated from each other in Bedford, Amherst and Nelson counties, she’d been in her truck too many hours. She’d gone to bed around eight o’clock that night, her back and head aching. Now she remembered that it was her turn to be on night duty. The caller was probably her boss, Cary McCutcheon. A horse must be injured, sick or dead somewhere. It would be her job to examine the horse at the site and write a detailed report. Sighing, she put on her glasses.
“That you, Cary?”
She mouthed a silent “Hell!” into the darkness of her warm, cozy bedroom.
“It’s Rod Payson’s horse Woolwine,” Cary continued. “Dead.”
“That marvelous stallion? Poor Rod. First Donna’s death and now this.”
“And to make it worse,” said Cary, “there’s a dead man in the stall. Rod said he knew him. Police are on their way. Rod called them first, then his veterinarian, Jase Tyree, then us. Be careful driving up there, the roads are terrible. Ice storm.” Both of them knew it would be a hard trip to Payson’s isolated horse farm in Amherst County. The hilly roads would be slippery and treacherous.
My horse protection web site at http://www.mmfisher.com/ is “dedicated to the well-being of horses, dream animals who live side-by-side with us.” I’d love it if readers would visit, and drop me a note about anything you see there or read in the novel.
I’m again writing about Connie Holt, with some of the familiar characters from The Case of the Three Dead Horses and new ones, among them, a trainer and jump jockeys. This time, the main plot will be about Connie’s involvement in the International Gold Cup Races of Virginia in which Cary’s fabulous black horse named Darkling Lord is running. She’ll also be unraveling the mystery of two valuable oil paintings, and her personal life will again be affected by the investigation.
I’ll close with some nice words from Shakespeare that I’m sure every rider feels are true: “When I bestride him I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes.” Remember them as you ride down those spring trails in the coming weeks.