Foal Play by Kathryn O’Sullivan, a murder mystery with humorous overtones, won the Malice Domestic competition for Best First Traditional Mystery Novel (available May 7, 2013).
It’s summertime in Corolla, North Carolina, and Colleen McCabe is the fire chief of this small resort town. She inhabits a mostly man’s world in her profession, but has managed to win over her team with her professionalism and skill. She and her Border Collie Sparky try to keep things under control, even in the height of tourist season.
This idyllic town in the Outer Banks comes complete with a wild horse refuge that is home to a herd of Spanish mustangs. The refuge is meant to keep them safe from tourists and other dangers. This is definitely harder to do when the horses break through the fences to mix with the population.
Suddenly, other sounds overpowered that of the screaming gulls—the rapid thumping of approaching horses, the harsh growl of a revving engine, the primal howl of mischief-making teens. The birds cocked their heads toward the noise. Thundering down the beach at full gallop was a herd of wild horses followed by two teen boys on a dune buggy.
The boys laughed and hollered as they chased the horses at full speed along the shore. The frightened horses snorted heavily. They had managed to stay a few feet ahead of their adolescent tormenters but their fatigue was apparent. Their muscles tightened. Their mouths foamed. Their chests sweated.
One of the boys, a freckled skater type, leaned from the buggy. He held the roll bar with one hand and stretched his arm toward the flapping mane of one of the horses. The horse was just out of reach. “Get closer!” the boy yelled. His friend, the pierced and tattooed driver, gunned the engine.
The herd headed straight toward the flock of gulls feeding at the pool. One by one the birds took flight, abandoning the pool and its treasure. The skater’s face flushed pink with excitement as he extended to his full length and grabbed hold of a horse’s mane. The last bird snatched a black morsel in its bill and became airborne as the horses crashed through the pool.
When the dead bodies start showing up in Corolla, we realize that the town may not be as idyllic as we originally thought. Of course if you’re a mystery lover like me, the dead bodies are right where things start to get interesting. This book has no shortage of bodies, and the first is that of an unknown male who is found on the beach.
Colleen raised her eyebrows in surprise. Bill stepped aside to reveal the body in the pool. Colleen slowly approached the water’s edge. The water lapped at her boots as she leaned forward and shielded her eyes from the sun to get a better look. The sight of dead bodies, human or otherwise, had never bothered her. In school she had actually looked forward to dissections in biology lab. The inner workings and structures of frogs, pigs, and crawfish had all fascinated her.
Even though she is asked to stay out of it, Colleen decides to help her friend Bill, the police chief, investigate, complicating both their friendship and the investigation. Clearly Bill and Colleen have feelings for each other, but that is not the only complication here. When a second body is found—that of a local woman known, if not necessarily loved, by everyone in town—and Colleen learns a vital piece of information relating to this murder, she decides to keep it to herself, which creates even more tension.
When I read a book, the setting means a lot to me. I like to escape into the story and feel that I’m there with the characters. I’ve never visited the Outer Banks, but I really felt like I got a good taste of this vacation spot. The fact that wild horses were frequently found roaming the streets just added to the feel of the place. I was really able to get into the characters and their quirks, and found the mystery quite enjoyable. Let’s hope this is the first in a series, I think there are more stories to these characters. Especially involving Colleen and Bill.
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Kerry Hammond has been an avid mystery reader ever since she discovered Nancy Drew at the age of 8. She enjoys all types of stories, from thrillers to cozies to historical mysteries.