It's inevitable that reviewers will compare any horse-related mysteries to the work of Dick Francis, who has set a high standard for the genre and captivated an audience that transcends the equestrian world.
Lyndon Stacey, author of Cut Throat and Blindfold (Trafalger Square Publishing), is by no means a Francis wannabe. In many ways her first two books transcend Francis' work. Her plotting is more intricate, her characters are just as memorable, and her settings and activities ring just as true.
Francis deals with Great Britain's racing and steeplechase worlds while Stacey focuses on the eventing and show-jumping scene in England.
But let's not make this a comparison of two authors in the same horsey genre, one revered and one a newcomer. Simply put, if you like Dick Francis you must read Lyndon Stacey's books and judge for yourself. Chances are you will want to get your hands on anything she writes from here on.
Cut Throat, Stacey's first novel, focuses on Ross Wakelin, an American showjumper whose promising career has hit bottom following a tragic accident that cost the lives of spectators.
A friend gives Ross a chance to start over at a training stable in England, but it is soon obvious that sobriety and good horsemanship are not enough to retrieve Ross's reputation on the show circuit or among his fellow workers at Oakley Manor.
The stable owner is willing to go out on a limb for Ross, but events conspire to undermine that confidence and Ross's own faith in his ability to banish his personal demons. Outside forces are intent on sabotaging his career and the future of the stable. The tools used are deadly, and Ross ends up fighting for his life as well as his reputation.
This book ends with readers hungering for more on Ross Wakelin, a very likeable underdog. Where does he go from here? He's bound to stumble into more adventures, and we want to be there.
Gideon Blake is the unwilling star of Blindfold. An artist and animal behaviorist, he's accustomed to dealing with threats from overwrought horses, but not from humans whose motives are not so clearly defined.
At the start of the book Gideon is kidnapped, blindfolded and forced to capture a high-spirited stallion. Unwilling to let the frightening incident pass, Gideon works himself deeper into danger as a story of intrigue unravels around him. The fine cast of characters - some likeable and some evil - are as real and memorable as Gideon.
Like Cut Throat, the book has twists and turns that make it impossible to guess the ending.
Stacey has a gift for painting characters we can despise or identify with. The good guys are simply horse people - tough but imperfect and no more courageous than most of us. But when a principle or something precious is threatened, these characters draw on hidden reserves to do the right thing. We can only hope we would do the same.
These books were published by Random House UK in 2003 and 2004 and can be ordered online from ABEBooks.com. Watch for reviews of Stacey's more recent books on DiscoverHorses.