Fresh Meat: Murder on the Hoof by Kathryn O’Sullivan

Murder on the Hoof by Kathryn O'Sullivan is second cozy murder mystery in the Colleen McCabe series about the Fire Chief from North Carolina's Outer Banks (available May 6, 2014).

With Murder on the Hoof, Kathryn O’Sullivan did something that always excites me about a book. She sent me looking for information about the book’s setting. When I find a story interesting and entertaining, I enjoy getting to know the setting a little better.

Corolla, North Carolina, is in the beautiful Outer Banks, and along with the majestic ocean and the sand dunes, are the wild horses that are watched over and protected by a special group of caring people. The wild Banker Colonial Spanish Mustangs play a key role in both of the books O’Sullivan has done for this series. The first book was Foal Play, which I plan to read now.

Fire Chief Colleen McCabe is overseeing a disaster drill with her crew of firefighters and performers from the local theater group. Everything goes smoothly until Doris, one of the older ladies in the group, turns out to be a real corpse.

Colleen is distraught, convinced she made a mistake letting the aging actress spend so much time on the beach in the hot sun. Though Rich Bailey, cosmetologist for the local funeral home, did a wonderful job with the fake wounds and injuries for the drill, it doesn’t seem worth the effort now.

The local theater group is doing a play to raise funds for the Lighthouse Wild Horse Preservation Society. It’s perfect setting for a perfectly delightful cozy mystery.

However, when the play's next rehearsal features the discovery of the murdered makeup man, it’s obvious there’s more than the play afoot. To add to the tension to the small-town production, a movie crew is coming in with beautiful soap star Hayley Thorpe, and the town is abuzz with excitement.

O’Sullivan did a great job building a list suspects, which features people from most of the town’s popular spots. It could be the stocker at the Food Lion, or maybe it’s the lady who battling with the director of the play for control, or maybe Doris had a jilted lover.

This is a great book to take along for a vacation on the beach. It has a complicated mystery, a strong group of suspects, and a little romantic triangle between the fire chief, the sheriff, and a local realtor named Pinky. Who could ask for anything more?

She and Bill had also grown closer wince Max’s arrest−but not as close as she had hoped. They had shared movie nights and dinners and had even arranged to take off work for a day trip down to Ocracoke, at the southern end of the Outer Banks, to hear Ocracoke’s native musicians at the Deepwater Creek Theater and Music Hall, but Colleen couldn’t help feeling that there was something preventing their relationship from deepening. Still, she was happy they seemed to be moving away from a purely platonic one. She stole a look at him. As if sensing her gaze, he turned and smiled.

“I’d better head back,” she said. She couldn’t spend all day staring at the ocean. “I’ve got a lot to talk about with my team.”

They marched through the sand to the short boardwalk at Dolphin Street that intersected and linked the beach to Lighthouse Drive, where Bill’s SUV was parked on the shoulder of the road.

“I’ll check on Marvin,” he said, and opened his door. “It’s not going to be easy for him without Doris.”

“I don’t envy you,” she said with sincerity. She had always found it difficult to be around the grieving. “Mind if we take a rain check on dinner? I could be a while at the station.”

Colleen gave Bill a short wave as he pulled onto Lighthouse Drive. She took a deep breath and then headed along Dolphin Street to the firehouse to check on her team.”

O’Sullivan raises the suspense level a couple of notches with a stalker for the young soap star. What place could be safer for a Hollywood visitor than a small coastal town in North Carolina? But as we know from recent news stories, stalkers are usually quite determined.

O’Sullivan keeps humor prevalent with the cantankerous theater group. The squabble and argue but, of course, the show must go on, and not even murder can stop that.

“It’s hard for me to believe doing a play or your training exercise would make him that angry. He kicked the wall. Nearly broke his foot.”

“Sounds about right.”

“How so?”

“I had a roommate in college who was a theater major. Her boyfriend was a real pain, always calling our room, asking where she was and then slamming the phone down when I told him she was at the theater. For her senior thesis, she was acting in a show. He tried to sabotage her by buying her tickets to a Broadway play for the same night and insisting she skip her final performance or he’d break up with her.”

“What did she do?”

“Missed her show. And never acted again, as far as I know,” she said. “She used to say, ‘Theater is a jealous lover,’ but it was clearly her boyfriend who was the jealous one. Sounds like Marvin felt the same way.”

“Still,” Bill said. “His reaction…Doris’s reaction…they seem extreme.”

“You’ve obviously never lived with an actress.”

Then Colleen discovers Bill may have done just that. O’Sullivan weaves a great mystery and adds little twists that keep you wondering what’s going to happen next.

I have to admit, I was surprised at the ending. She did an excellent job of throwing out clues, but keeping me from putting the puzzle pieces in the right place.

Take a ride on the wild side and enjoy this engaging cozy mystery from Kathryn O’Sullivan. You might just learn something in the process.

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Leigh Neely is a former journalist and editor who writes fiction with her writing partner, Jan Powell. The first book of “The Connelly Witches” miniseries for Harlequin E is out now. Witch’s Awakening by Neely will be followed by Witch’s Haunting in the fall, and you can see True Nature at all book sites online. Leigh also writes for the popular blog, WomenofMystery.net.

Read all posts by Leigh Neely for Criminal Element.

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