#2: He Trots The Air

Introduction

When I was thinking about writing a second novel, again featuring my heroine Connie Holt, a lot of questions peppered my mind. Easily the most important was which kind of horse abuse would form the basis of the plot. It’s important to me that my books have meaning for the reader, a theme. Having taught literature and its structure for a long time, I know that some writers prefer to have themes, and some don’t, the latter wishing only to amuse the reader. Certainly all right. But I was brought up on, so to speak, novels that have more than just a plot. And in my case, the theme in both books is the abuse of horses.

Authors who use themes say to readers, “Here’s what life is like, the wonder of life itself, the beauty of love of many kinds, but also the underside of life, the terrible things too. Read my story to find out about all this.” These authors hope that their stories will enable readers to understand whatever the conflicts in the novel are and why they exist, and in turn, transfer what they’re learned into their lives.

Looking into the abuses in horse racing, I found ample material for my story. Now it is very clear to me that lots of people deliberately close their minds–and hearts–to the abuse of horses. While horse racing is, on one hand, exciting and colorful, and the training of horses of ongoing interest to many, there is an underside to racing, which many people prefer not to know about. So now I had a rough idea for the story in which equine investigator Connie Holt would have a racing mystery to explore. I wouldn’t be able to escape researching this new material, but that’s all right, because as an English major, I’ve learned to really enjoy digging into subject matter in order to understand it. I would invent a fabulous horse, Darkling Lord, his name related to his ancestor, Eclipse, the famous Thoroughbred of equine history. I would use the Gold Cup International Steeplechase, held twice a year at The Plains, Virginia, to show readers what a steeplechase of that magnitude is like. But always against that great event, which all the characters, good and bad, are eagerly anticipating, is the cabal of people who are planning to drug Dark, and the mysterious man who has put the whole conspiracy in motion for reasons equally mysterious. It’s no accident that I made the great horse black, with all the traditional symbolism of that color.

Now it remained to think about dangling concerns from novel one. Readers would want to know how certain things came out. At the end of that first book, Connie was trying to maintain a relationship with a highly honorable man, whose horse Woolwine had been the first victim. Was that romance going to last into the second novel? But wait. Connie had betrayed a weakness for another man in that book, an attraction of which she was deeply ashamed. What has happened to Fayence, the man’s beautiful horse farm in Albemarle County? He sold that place at the end of book one.  Hm. Should that second man come back? And because I am so fascinated by architecture, I wanted to find out more about certain types of houses. And maybe Connie could have a mini-adventure somewhere else than Virginia and . . . Well, you see what I was up against.

It took a long time to write He Trots the Air. Incidentally, that title is from Shakespeare, who loved horses dearly judging from the tender way he speaks of them.

Now it remains for me to hear from readers as to what they think of this second book. I find those comments very helpful. They tell me what has been important in the experience of reading my work. A friend told me, for instance, that after the first book he wanted to hear more about Connie’s earlier life. I put that into the second book. A relative told me she really likes Earlene Collins, Connie’s friend who works with Arabians, and who lost a horse in the first book. I made Earlene’s intriguing discovery in her attic a sub-plot in the book. A reviewer once said that Connie is a wonderful woman, brave and strong, a role model for young women. She maintains that integrity in the second book, although not without some suffering.

Summary of the Plot

In He Trots the Air, readers meet Connie Holt, an equine insurance investigator in Virginia. Her newest case concerns Darkling Lord, a Thoroughbred of dazzling pedigree who is being trained to run in the Gold Cup International Steeplechase. Tangential to the case are an oil painting discovered in an attic, possibly the work of American painter Henry Stull, and a sinister man from her previous investigation, Their Proud Hoofs. Thirteen days before the Gold Cup, Connie learns that something is going to happen to the colt. With few facts to go on, there is a strong possibility she won’t be able to save the horse from harm. When the climax comes, no one could have foreseen what happens in front of the colt’s stall on race day.

Excerpt

Two men and a woman sat in a trailer parked on the bank of a narrow, clogged creek. It was warm for January so Dix opened the windows to get some fresh air, but the stench of Winding Creek outside, mingled with the fusty smell of mildew inside, was making him sick. Living here, he thought, was killing him. He had decided to tell the visitors a little of what he knew to satisfy their curiosity, surprise them with the money, and then get rid of them.

    “He’s got a fancy house, real old. He’s loaded. If we do this right, there won’t be no danger. We go in, do it, and get out.”

    The big kid reached for a beer, the muscles in his arms bulging. “How do you know he’s the one?”

    “I know, that all. If I tell you more now . . .” He made the time-honored gesture, drawing his right index finger across his throat.

    “We wait until we get the call to move in. You just be ready to do it when I tell you.”

    Dix reached down to the battered gym bag on the floor. The others’ eyes widened when he put the cash on the table.

    “Down payment from the guy who hired us. Now I’m splittin’ even with you both. There’ll be more when we get the job done.”

    “And when will that be, Dix?” asked Johnny.

    Dix softened his voice, answered patiently. “I won’t know until I get the call.”

    “Oh, yeah.”

    Dix and Johnny had a lot in common. Their parents had been friends and neighbors on the banks of the creek. When they died, they left their sons a little money and rusty trailers. Until his accident, Dix had been a stable hand at a number of local horse farms. Johnny had worked at a farm down the road since he’d dropped out of school five years ago. Taking care of horses was all both men knew.

    The difference between them was that Johnny was content to go on forever feeding horses and mucking out stalls. Not Dix. Even before the crushed leg, he had wanted to change his life. Now he was desperate to get out of Central Virginia as soon as he could raise enough money.

    The gleam in Rosemary’s eyes as she stared at the wad of bills was pure greed, thought Dix. His third cousin was hard to get along with. But smart. Two years of business school when he hadn’t even graduated high school. She’d found flaws in his plans for two previous jobs that could have led to jail time for all of them. He didn’t know–didn’t care–if she had dreams like his.

    Elaborately counting out the money so she didn’t think he was cheating her, he divided it into three piles. She seized hers and counted it again.

    He smiled inside. That was okay with him. He watched the kid stare at the money in his hand.

    “What’re we supposed to do for this money?” asked Rosemary.

    “Nice try,” Dix said.

    He stood up, and the others took the hint and left. Limping to the refrigerator, he got a beer and sat down on the faded couch. The pattern of garish cabbage roses was almost gone. He went over the details of the job in his mind. He hadn’t been told everything, only enough to know that what they had to do on the night in question wasn’t complicated, but would take nerve and careful timing. He wondered what Rosemary and Johnny would say if they knew the plan was to drug McCutcheon’s horse before the black colt ran the Virginia Gold Cup in October.

    For a minute, he was scared. But then he calmed himself. Johnny could do the heavy work, and Rosemary would help him iron out the details once he knew more.

    He thought about what he’d do with the money when he got the final payment.Leave this stinking trailer and move somewhere near the ocean, maybe Virginia Beach.

    His leg was hurting again. Damn that horse for falling on it.

    Then his face broke into a sour smile. Cary McCutcheon sure had a surprise coming.

Reader Responses to He Trots the Air

“I received your book and wish to thank you for the personal note you enclosed.  I started reading it yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed the story line.  It keeps one involved in the action.” – New York

“I read the new book in just 2 days.  It was very intriguing – couldn’t put it down. Learned a lot about art restoration and certainly about horses.  The end left me wondering how Connie and Tony’s love affair would turn out.  That will no doubt be in book #3.  Congratulations on another Winner!” – New York

“I loved it! I was quite surprised about your knowledge regarding horses. It was very, very interesting to read about their temperaments, their sensitivity and generally, their reaction to people. It truly opened up a new world to me and I have new admiration for horses. You certainly also know so much about their health and medications. I was pleasantly surprised at your knowledge of art. I found that all very interesting and informative. Your description of southern homes was fascinating and also very interesting. I liked Connie and her personality. Intelligent, thoughtful, careful, considerate, knowledgeable.” – New York

“Horse racing can attract a bit of foul play. He Trots the Air is another Connie Holt mystery from Marilyn M. Fisher as she delves deeper into the equine world as Connie finds out who is drugging horses and finds herself pulled into the art world as well, as surrounding man’s constant companion. For horse lovers and mystery lovers, “He Trots the Air” should prove quite the excellent pick.” – Midwest Book Review

“In He Trots the Air we once again follow insurance investigator Connie Holt as she becomes aware of a plot to drug a racehorse. Who is involved and why? On top of that a troubling individual from a previous investigation makes an unexpected appearance. Has he changed? Can she trust him? Could he be involved? Along the way we learn about a famous equine artist as well as the intricate details involved in the restoration and preservation of old paintings. We also learn more than we might want to know about the deplorable practice of drugging racehorses, one of several abuses the author is trying to eradicate from the lives of these noble animals. Events accelerate to a final climax in a darkened barn and the mystery is solved.” – New York

“I really enjoyed this book! I was worried for Darkling Lord…I always worry for animals in stories! Luckily, everything turns out okay in the end. I enjoyed uncovering the plot surrounding Darkling Lord with Connie and the owners/trainers.” – Pennsylvania

“Once again, insurance investigator Connie Holt proves her worth when Cary and Pam McCutcheon’s best steeplechase horse, Darkling Lord, becomes the target of a terrible plot. With a line-up of colorful characters, author Marilyn Fisher delves into the world of steeplechase racing and the dark forces that drive men to commit despicable acts. Darkling Lord is the star character of this tale, a huge, high-strung horse who responds to only a few chosen handlers, and whose strength and speed promise a coveted win at the Gold Cup. A substitute secretary with ulterior motives, a down-on-his luck stableman with nothing much to lose but his integrity, a naive waitress/groom whose only desire is to find love, and a prominent art restoration expert make for interesting character contrasts throughout the story.

So well-defined in the author’s first novel, Connie Holt uses her skill and intuition to follow the clues and identify both the plot plans and the perpetrators. As the story unfolds, Connie also finds her way back to the man she loved, and recognizes his journey to forgiveness. The author includes a great deal of interesting information that rounds out the story, such as significant details of antique art restoration, history of a famous painter of equine art, and background on some well-known horses in history.

Fisher’s skill with words and pacing, and her knowledge of horses and the world they inhabit provide plenty of suspense and intrigue in He Trots the Air.

The heart-pounding world of steeplechase and dastardly tricks in the horse community make He Trots the Air an irresistible read, as insurance investigator Connie Holt races against time and a roster of despicable characters to save a magnificent black colt from disaster.” – Connecticut

“He Trots the Air is the second entry in the equestrian themed Connie Holt series by Marilyn M. Fisher. Suspense builds throughout the story as equine insurance investigator Connie tries to prevent harm to thoroughbred Darkling Lord before a Gold Cup Race. The horse country milieu is informative and the descriptions of landscape, restaurants and houses are evocative of the Central Virginia setting. Fisher’s book is intelligently written and plotted and her characters are well drawn; Connie emerges as a fully rounded and likeable character as the reader learns about a failed marriage, her romantic life, and even her passion for junk food. I’m looking forward to the next Connie Holt mystery. Entertaining and a perfect pool/beach read!” – Georgia

“It was gripping and I did not want to put it down until I finished. Went to bed with the book and   f i n i s h e d it.  Wow, it was great . . . so is there going to be another Connie Holt book?  You know you are leaving all of us readers with a cliff hanger.” – Virginia.

“Marilyn Fisher is back with a stunning second novel with all the intrigue of her first. The characters you grew to love and respect in Fisher’s first effort are back and better than ever. Follow equine insurance investigator Connie Holt as she works to solve the mystery in He Trots the Air. A great read. I couldn’t put it down.” – Tennessee

“You too will trot along the pages airily anticipating what will happen as a nefarious plot proceeds to dope Darkling Lord, and another mystery unravels concerning a possible Henry Stull painting, as Fisher combines two of her passions, horses and art, educating us along the way both in her very detailed real-life approach.” – New York

“He Trots the Air, by Marilyn Fisher, is her second engrossing mystery with Connie Holt again helping to solve it. The characters are so well developed I felt I knew them, especially Cary and Pam from Their Proud Hoofs.  Ms. Fisher’s obvious love and vast knowledge of horses endeared her to me. I’m looking forward to the third Connie Holt mystery!” – New York

“It was great and very well told.  Even though I knew what was going to happen I couldn’t wait to get to the end.” – Tennessee

“Here’s a great book for lovers of both the movie “Secretariat” and the books of Dick Francis. Like “Secretariat”, this book is packed full of the details of training a promising but high-strung horse for a big race. And like Dick Francis, Marilyn Fisher creates believable characters with interesting careers. She’s especially good with people in the horse world who are usually ignored – grooms who are poorly paid but who would do anything to work with horses; young jockeys trying to get a start; small-time owners training their own horses. Fisher has real empathy for working class people in the horse economy. Her villain is especially well-realized, even reluctantly sympathetic. A vivid, funny, attractive art expert (hope we see more of him in future books!); a financial tycoon with a dark past; and a Virginia Good Ol’ Boy with a heart of gold are only some of the original and well-drawn secondary characters. Intelligent and well researched with lots of fascinating information about how to manage a horse with a lot of temperament. All this and a fast-moving, suspenseful plot with not one but two exciting climaxes and a compelling romantic subplot. Rewarding for horse and mystery lovers alike.” – Libraphile

“I was transported back to the incomparable autumn landscape of Central Virginia as I followed equine insurance investigator Connie Holt through her second adventure. This book exactly captures the ambience of that part of the country, where I lived for many years. I especially appreciated the portrait of Cary McCutcheon, Connie’s employer, whose style of leadership and sensitivity to human relationships show both strong character and deep sensitivity, as well as the regional flavor that the novel captures so well.

I also thought the villain was believable both in the nature of his motivation and the manner in which he conducts his sordid business. He is self-aware enough to know how nasty it is, and he feels bad about that, but he’s hard-hearted enough to persevere anyway. And he’s just smart enough to get himself (and others) into deep and interesting trouble. The mastermind behind him is a study in evil of a quite different sort.

Other characters who intrigued me were an aging woman stablehand with good qualities but made vulnerable by emotional need and, especially, an art restorer who is doing exactly what he wants in life, doing it well, and doing it with gusto and panache.

In fact you can read this book as a mystery involving skullduggery in the horse racing world (and it works perfectly well as that) or as a study in a certain kind of character contrast: the truncated, unfulfilled life versus the expansive, satisfying life. Certain moral and relational choices are the key; this is brought out in a subplot involving Connie’s relationship with a character from her past, someone who has to learn what love and honorable achievement really are.

An engaging story, fascinating background details, and characters well worth getting to know: what’s not to like?” – Amazon.com

“Whether one rides a gaited horse or trotting horse, or is simply a horse lover who does not ride at all, the Shakespeare quotes and exciting story from He Trots the Air once again bring Marilyn Fisher soaring the heights of another brilliant equine mystery! Full of suspense and romance, the story continues the life of Connie Holt from Their Proud Hoofs [formerly The Case of the Three Dead Horses]–with her “bad boy” interest in Tony, through her thrilling investigation to save and protect a majestic bay Thoroughbred, “Darkling Lord,” owned by her boss, in the steeplechase race of his life. Marilyn is “spot on” with accurate details and intrigue that make this book a quick and easy page turner from the starting “gait” to the “finish line” on the last page! I read it in one sitting (when I wasn’t in the saddle), and highly recommend it to all who are interested in horse protection, spiced with such interesting characters. We can only hope the sequel will follow this book “herd” soon.” – Tennessee

 


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