Instead of a proper second honeymoon, the newly remarried Harry and Fair Haristeen leave cozy Crozet, Virginia, for Shelbyville, Kentucky, site of the famous saddlebred horse show. There they’ll visit dear friends Joan Hamilton and Larry Hodge and enjoy a week among some of the finest horses, trainers, and riders in the country.
But soon after they arrive, events veer mysteriously–and murderously–off course. First, Joan’s ruby and sapphire horsehead heirloom pin is stolen from her private box at the fairgrounds. Next, a young film star’s prize three-gaited mare disappears into thin air. There is no lack of suspects, from hotheaded trainers and jealous rivals to vicious ex-spouses. Then a body is found flagrantly murdered and it’s obvious to Harry that someone at Shelbyville is sending a strong message: winning is only secondary–first prize is survival.
As Harry searches for clues, rediscovers life as a married woman, and deals with her upcoming fortieth birthday, her four-legged detective friends are already on the case. But is animal instinct any match for human depravity? Especially with two humans to protect and a killer on the prowl?
The charming 14th Mrs. Murphy mystery (after 2006's Sour Puss) finds ex-postmistress and sometime-detective Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen accompanying her veterinarian husband, Fair, to an equestrian extravaganza in Kentucky. The mishaps begin when Harry's good friend Joan loses a beloved pin or is the treasured piece of jewelry stolen? Then Jorge, a groom at Joan's farm, is found murdered, a pair of crosses cut into his palm. As if murder's not enough, an aging movie star's horse goes missing, and INS officials show up, hunting illegal aliens. Throughout, Harry's menagerie cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter as well as corgi Tee Tucker cleverly sniff out wrongdoing. Though some readers might find the anthropomorphized animals' italicized dialogue a bit much, the novel's tight pacing, combined with intriguing local color, make this mystery a blue-ribbon winner.