Having a stand-alone novel written by the author of one of my favorite series (which also makes her one of my favorite authors) is a reading bonus I’m delighted to welcome. Annette Dashofy’s Death by Equine takes readers into the world of horses and horse racing, and having grown up in and lived all my life in the state of Kentucky, that’s a world surrounding me. My drive home from college in Lexington, Kentucky took me past horse farm after horse farm, a beautiful sight. Although I live in the state that claims perhaps the most famous horse race of them all, The Kentucky Derby, I have to admit I was rather ignorant of all the daily care that goes into assuring the health of these amazing animals. From reading Death by Equine, I soon learned why a veterinarian at a racetrack is a full-time position. Being a vet to these large, powerful, and often temperamental animals can be a dangerous job, and readers will quickly grasp that fact in the opening pages of this book. Annette Dashofy takes us right smack to the backside of the track, where the business of keeping expensive horses ready to run truly does take a village.
Pennsylvania veterinarian Jessie Cameron has signed on to take over the duties of her mentor and father figure Doc Lewis at the local racetrack for two weeks. Jessie has her own veterinary practice she shares with a friend, but she is happy to fill in for Doc, who is taking his wife on a long over-due vacation. However, just hours before Doc can leave town he is trampled and killed by a horse at the track while attending to the horse in its stall. The death is ruled an accident, but Jessie doesn’t feel comfortable with that call.
Toxicology reports show a tranquilizing substance in the horse’s blood test, and Jessie knows that Doc was aware not to give it to the horse due to the horse’s violent, aggressive reaction to it. Jessie’s soon-to-be ex-husband and state trooper Greg tells her she needs to let it go and accept the coroner’s ruling. But, Jessie feels too strongly that her long-time friend Doc was set up to die on a bogus emergency call for the horse. She feels a debt to the person who gave her so much and was responsible for her becoming a vet herself.
With the police clearly not interested in investigating a death ruled as accidental, Jessie forges ahead on her own. She wants to find out if anyone deliberately placed Doc in harm’s way, but the layers are deep and dark, and Jessie will uncover more than she bargains for. She isn’t sure who she can trust as she struggles with disturbing revelations about Doc and the Riverview Track backside community. The secrets people protect are motive for deceit and even murder. Jessie’s inquiries and research of Doc’s records put her on a collision course with a killer. The reader feels her frustration and finally her terror. The twists and red herrings keep Jessie and the reader suspecting first one person at Riverview Track and then another.
Annette Dashofy creates unforgettable characters. Having fallen in love with Zoe Chambers and Pete from the Zoe series, I know just how hard I can fall for them. She’s captured my heart again with Jessie and her supporting cast. As well as the characters the reader roots for, there are those characters that the author is so good at making you dislike, too. Annette Dashofy knows how to evoke emotional responses to characters and their actions, be it someone rescuing a sweet kitten or someone deliberately dosing a horse to kill.
Readers are once again fortunate to be in the bucolic beauty of the Pennsylvania countryside in Death by Equine. There’s something special about horse country, no matter which state it’s in, but Annette Dashofy is especially adept at bringing out the unique charm of the land she and her family have lived on for generations. Her descriptions of the track, too, both backside and racetrack bring it all alive in a vivid sensory experience.
There’s much to love about Annette Dashofy’s first stand-alone book. Readers will enjoy a thrilling story where horses and people coexist in a carefully balanced ecosystem, until someone willfully and destructively interferes. I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of Death by Equine, and my review reflects my honest appraisal of it.