by Sandra Murphy
This week we have another horse mystery, Runaway Murder by Leigh Hearon, and an interesting interview with Leigh. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Runaway Murder, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Runaway Murder: A Carson Stables Mystery by Leigh Hearon
Review by Sandra Murphy
Annie Carson is a Western horsewoman, unfamiliar with dressage except to wonder, “What’s the point?” She’s pulled into the dressage world to help sell a stable of horses her boyfriend, Marcus, inherited. He’s hands off about the horses, leaving the details and care to Annie’s friend, Patricia.
The show ring is a different world from what Annie’s used to. Breeches and jackets vs. jeans and a sweatshirt are the most notable, but the snarkiness of the competitors is overwhelming, especially since they don’t compete against each other but are driven to improve themselves at each show and gain advanced titles. Like any other sport, there are some who do the work and some who want to skip to the end and get bragging rights, earned or not.
Betsy is one of the ones who wants to do the work. She’s on hand to buy one of the horses and easily falls in love with one. The horse seems to feel the same about her. Annie and Patricia hope the success of the first sale is a sign of good things to come over the weekend. Sadly, it’s not. A death can put a real damper on any weekend.
Although the death looks like an accident, Annie wonders how it really happened. It just doesn’t make sense. In addition to in-fighting among the riders, one of them has her eye on Annie’s Marcus and isn’t shy about letting her feelings be known. Another barely acknowledges Annie until she finds out about her connection to Marcus—then she wants to be BFFs. The world of the uber-rich is not one Annie wants to live in. It’s not even that nice to visit.
This is the fourth book in the series. Annie is a great character and like her, I wish she could spend more time with Marcus. She has a real way with horses, people, not so much. Horses are much more open about what they want from you. Previous books focused on Western style riding, so dressage is a distinct change for both Annie and the reader. As Annie learns the rules and begins to appreciate it, so does the reader, all without distracting from solving the murder.
Read reviews of the previous books in the KRL archives. Feel free to jump right, in but you’ll want to go back to the beginning to enjoy all of Annie’s adventures.
Interview with author Leigh Hearon:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Leigh: I started writing stories when I was six. I know this because my mother, my adoring (and probably only) fan saved them, but I didn’t seriously start writing until my husband and I moved from Seattle to live full-time on our 53-acre farm on the Olympic Peninsula, where I found the bucolic environment, solace, and silence I needed to really concentrate on creating stories.
KRL: When did your first novel come out?
Leigh: Reining In Murder, the first in my Carson Stables Mystery series, was published by Kensington in 2016. My protagonist, Annie Carson, is a horse trainer who rescues a Thoroughbred after a horrendous hauling accident. The horse survives, but the human body count starts at the opening scene and goes up from there. Annie’s natural curiosity draws her into the investigation, plus, she’s deeply attracted to the prime suspect, which complicates things.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not, what else have you written?
Leigh: In my professional life, I’ve written scripts, speeches, grants, and a lot of advertising copy, but all that’s behind me now. I’m sticking to mysteries!
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Leigh: I live in one of the most glorious places in the world, the Olympic Peninsula, where I’m surrounded by rain forests, organic farms, small towns and a population that is both rural and urbane. Port Townsend, the closest metropolis to our farm, has coined a motto sported on many rear bumpers: “We’re here because we’re not all there.” It seemed only natural that I write about the rich and varied community that surrounds me – fictionalized, of course, to protect the innocent and not so innocent.
My protagonist Annie Carson feels very much at home among her horse loving friends in this rural world, but in Runaway Murder, the latest in the series, she’s temporarily transplanted to an entirely new environment, the world of dressage in Southern California. She definitely feels like a fish out of water, and the book explores how she deals with a different class of riders, particularly after a murder or two interrupts the planned proceedings.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing, or just write whenever you can?
Leigh: I have to set a schedule, or I’d never write. I learned that after I became a private investigator back in the early ‘90s, and blithely thought I’d divide my time between solving cases and writing the great American mystery. The PI business took off and my writing plans withered on the vine. When my husband and I decided to make the farm our primary home, I claimed the most remote cabin on the property as my writer’s den. When I’m in the thick of writing, my standing orders are not to disturb me unless there’s a fire or one of the horses got out, and I don’t emerge until I’ve advanced at least one chapter further into the book.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Leigh: I am a hardcore plotter, and I do it the old-fashioned way, on a massive whiteboard on which I put large “post-its” that summarize actions in every chapter, the characters in each and what clues or red herrings are dropped in. It’s the easiest way for me to ensure the plot keeps moving and I’m on track. I start by writing a general outline of the book, denouement first. Things always change, of course, but I have to have the big picture already in my head.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Leigh: Nine to four, with a short break to check the internet for any factual questions that may have arisen. I deliberately don’t have Internet access in my writer’s den or I’d get way too sidelined. Oh, and to eat.!
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Leigh: I was extraordinarily lucky. I was working on a missing woman case and had reason to call a very successful writer in regard to it. When the case was resolved – a very sad ending – I re-contacted the writer, told her I’d written my first book, and asked for her advice. Her editor liked what I had written and offered me a contract. My first book is dedicated to the woman I tried to find. She was an avid horse owner/lover, too.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Leigh: When I first started reading online reviews, I was sure someone was going to take umbrage at something I’d written in the horse scenes. Anyone who’s ever owned a horse has encountered people who are happy to tell you the only possible way to care for, ride, house, or train your little – or big – darling, whether you asked or that advice or not. A lot of readers say they learned more about horses than they ever thought they perhaps needed to know after reading my books, but so far, no one’s argued about how I’ve depicted horses. Fingers crossed!
KRL: Most interesting book signing story in a bookstore or other venue?
Leigh: I just had my very first book signing at a barn in Tucson, AZ. It was followed by a signing at Clues Unlimited, an established mystery bookstore in town. The owner boards her own horse and donkey at the stables and thought it would be fun to have another signing there. It was great to meet both boarders and their equine companions, which included the aforementioned donkey and several adorable minis.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Leigh: I’m still weighing the idea of continuing the Carson Stable Mystery series or letting Annie ride off into the sunset. I’m now working on something completely different. My protagonist is a female private investigator who gets caught up in Cold War events of fifty years ago. I’ve been a female all my life and a PI for the past 28, so I figured it was time.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Leigh: I love classic mystery writers such as Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and so many contemporary mystery writers that it would be impossible to list them all. I recently attended Malice Domestic and came back with more authors’ books than I have time to read. I am astounded that I have only now discovered Louise Penny, whose books I am devouring at the speed of light. At my age, it’s thrilling to discover a series one hasn’t already read.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Leigh: Every book requires a different set of consultants. My equine vet has been a real mensch throughout the series – reading, advising, educating me on everything equine. I’ll take his advice any time. In fact, everyone I’ve asked for help has patiently provided it, from dressage instructors for the past book to prop plane pilots for the third in the series. For my current book, I’m reading a lot of books by Richard Rhodes on different aspects of the Cold War, and recently visited a Cold War museum in Warrenton, VA, which has extraordinary exhibits and an equally extraordinary history.
KRL: What do you read?
Leigh: Mysteries, And books on World War I. I’m a bit of a nutcase on that subject.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Leigh: I am so boring. I watch Masterpiece Theater and BBC dramas. Frankly, most of the time, I’d rather be reading.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Leigh: Join a writer’s group. I used to eschew these, but have found that the support, suggestions, advice, and friendship that emerge out of encounters with my fellow writers has been immeasurably helpful, not only in my writing, but in other aspects of my life. We need to hear from others. We need others.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Leigh: Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in, and for taking the time to review my books!
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Leigh: Even though I’ve successfully closed hundreds of cases as a P.I., I have yet to solve a single Nancy Drew video game. I think I need an eight-year-old to help me.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Runaway Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “runaway,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 28, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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