One question that authors are invariably asked is, “Which book is your favorite?”
Just as this question would be impossible to answer if someone were to ask it of our children or, indeed, our horses, it’s equally difficult to answer well when talking about our books. Each and every book (four of them, in my case) was a totally unique experience to write, and each has a special place in my heart.
AT RISK is and always will be special simply because it was the first. When I began creating barn manager and amateur sleuth Steve Cline and delved into his story, I was obsessed and enthused and thrilled with the experience. I was writing for fun. I was writing for me.
There were no agents or editors to keep in mind or collaborate with, no reviewers to worry about, no outside influences at all. And nothing will ever surpass the experience of watching my long-suffering UPS man lug boxes of AT RISK, fresh off the press, into my mud room. My publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, routinely sends boxes and boxes of books to the author to be autographed and returned because they do a brisk business with book collectors.
AT RISK is essentially a coming-of-age story as well as a highly suspenseful mystery. The mystery element is strong; there’s lots of horse stuff; and there’s a thrilling escape-on-horseback ending.
By the time I got to the third book in the series, COLD BURN, Steve is developing a reputation for “looking into things” and is asked to find out what happened to a man who disappeared while working the night shift on a Thoroughbred breeding farm. A fun relationship develops between Steve and the woman who hired him; the mystery came together exceedingly well; and the climax surpassed my expectations. I was pleased with that book on many levels.
TRIPLE CROSS was a blast to research and write as it is set in Louisville for the running of the Kentucky Derby. In all my books, I have a pure horse mystery and some other mystery going on at the same time, and they are intertwined in some way. In TRIPLE CROSS, they blended so well, I surprised myself.
The whole plotting thing is a strange process, believe me. I start out with various ideas and work on them until they mesh and all the characters are acting in a manner that’s true to their wants and needs, and sometimes, I am surprised by the complexity and the end result. But I really love TRIPLE CROSS because it gives the reader an intimate look at what it’s like to be in Louisville and on the backside of Churchill Downs during Derby week.
But, if I had to pick a favorite, I’d squirm around, then finally concede that DEAD MAN’S TOUCH is my favorite. Why? Because it’s the most emotional of the four. The mystery element may not be as strong as the rest, but it’s plotted well, and it’s a very “horsey” book with most of the scenes taking place on the backside of Washington Park (a.k.a. Laurel Park). But above all, it’s an emotional journey for Steve and, hopefully, for the reader.
And I guess others agree with me. DEAD MANS’S TOUCH received a full and totally positive review from the New York Times.
December 28, 2003
CRIME by Marilyn Stasio
Hidden away from the glittering stage of thoroughbred racing, with its flashing silks and gleaming horseflesh, is a place they call ''the backside.'' In her second stable mystery, DEAD MAN'S TOUCH (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95), Kit Ehrman refers to this behind-the-scenes area – where trainers, grooms, barn managers and stable hands minister around the clock to the needs of their high-strung charges -- as ''a world unto itself.'' Ehrman, who has worked at show barns and breeding farms, strikes a solid claim to this gritty territory with another heels-up thriller that takes up where Dick Francis left off, in the barn.
Steve Cline, the young stable hand who made such a strong and sympathetic hero in ''At Risk,'' searches out the father he never knew, a thoroughbred trainer at a Maryland racetrack, and signs on as a ''hot-walker,'' a lowly exercise worker, when he discovers that someone has been fixing races by tampering with his father's horses. In true Francis tradition, Steve takes plenty of physical punishment as a sleuth. But his undercover role also gives him the inside track on life as it's lived on the backside, a grueling, even squalid existence that pays off in the chance to get close to the magnificent animals that have more character and heart than the two-footed fools who view them as a commodity.