Reining in Murder by Leigh Hearon

Recommended, but with reservations

Kensington Books
Kensington Books

Paperback ($7.99, USD) or Kindle e-book ($5.99)  released Tuesday, 29 March 2016

When horse trainer Annie Carson rescues a beautiful thoroughbred from a roadside rollover, she knows the horse is lucky to be alive … unlike the driver. After rehabilitating the injured animal at her Carson Stables ranch, Annie delivers the horse to Hilda Colbert – the thoroughbred’s neurotic and controlling owner – only to find she’s been permanently put out to pasture. Two deaths in three days is unheard of in the small Olympic Peninsula county, and Annie decides to start sniffing around. She’s confident she can track down a killer … but she may not know how ruthless this killer really is …

Like an untried Thoroughbred, Leigh Hearon’s Reining in Murder (A Carson Stables Mystery) shows a lot of promise – but this clean, cozy mystery set in the world of high-stakes horse competition isn’t quite up to the standard of the blue rosettes.

Annie Carson, the heroine who rescues horses, is well-defined, a woman who’s meant to be a little rough around the edges and as comfortable in her own skin as Trotter, the donkey she keeps on her small farm in the Pacific Northwest.  The storyline is complex, with just a few untidy strands sticking out here and there and begging for a defter hand with the clippers.

Given time, I expect Hearon will grow more comfortable with her skills and give her readers that cleaner, tighter finish that will earn blue ribbons with her future mysteries.  Her prose, for the most part, flows like a smooth and easy trot, but it occasionally breaks into bumps where she flings stable jargon around without explanation, in or out of context, and leaves her readers to hang on as best they can.  Most of them won’t know how.

I’ve ridden horses since my father saved pocket-money to pay for pony rides on Saturdays.  He gave me an ancient cutting horse for my 11th birthday, a horse who’d been put out to pasture and who proved to be perfect for a horse-crazy girl who knew next to nothing.  I now have a 16.3-hand* Palomino Quarter Horse who, over the last eight years, has learned as much as I have.

We both know that I can’t cross-tie him unless I leave his halter on, unlike Annie and that $50,000 Thoroughbred she rescues as the story opens.  My husband only knows what cross-tying is because he drilled the screws for the brackets, after I showed him where I wanted them to go.  My best friends don’t know what cross ties are, much less how to use them.  Nor do they know what cribbing is, or even that it’s a stable vice.  Do they even know what “stable vice” means?  I suspect not.  Nor do they know what I mean when I say that my vet “floated” my horse’s teeth, or whether a flake of hay is bigger or smaller than a bale of hay.

Yet, readers will encounter all of those equine terms in Reining in Murder (A Carson Stables Mystery) and I’m betting few, very few, will know how to decipher them.  Even with the built-in dictionaries on e-readers.

Writing vices like these will pull readers right out of a story, as surely as a wicked buck will fling a rider out of a jump saddle.  (Ask me how I broke my back.)  I don’t know why Hearon’s editors didn’t catch these flaws and insist that she recast the offending sentences.  It’s not fair, not to her, nor to her readers.  Especially not to her readers.  And that’s a shame.  Because the promise is there.  It just isn’t kept with this first book out of the starting blocks of what I believe can become a satisfying series.

As a result, I think this mystery is likely to appeal only to fans of cozy mysteries who know a good bit about horses, or who have the patience and the willingness to work through these flaws for the pleasure of being in on the beginning of a new series.

*The height of horses is measured in “hands,” from the top of the horse’s withers (at the end of the mane, where the neck joins the back) to the ground, with each hand equal to 4 inches.  So, Sis’s horse is 5’7″ tall — a long way to the ground.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Kensington Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and independent review.  Sis values her integrity and her independence far too much to exchange either for one book or a library full of them.


6 thoughts on “Reining in Murder by Leigh Hearon”

    1. I think it has great potential, and I think some readers are going to go back later and pick this one up. I hoped to give readers enough background to enjoy the story for what it offers, because I do think this is an author to watch. I’m looking for more.

  1. Thanks for the explanation! I actually knew about flakes, hay bales, and floating. I knew that cribbing was a bad habit but didn’t know exactly what it was. I had a good guess about cross-ties but am glad for the further information. I grew up in the country, though, and I agree most people would be clueless.

    1. I thought so, but I asked a few of people to be sure. I wanted to include the terms after my review, though, because I do think this writer has a lot of promise and that this could be and should be a good cozy mystery series. The ending still needs to be tighter, but if readers know these terms when they encounter them in the story, they’ll enjoy it a lot more than if they don’t.

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