Synopsis . . .
When Bruce Claremont quit his job working the night shift on a thoroughbred breeding farm in Warrenton, Virginia and vanished, his sister Corey asks barn manager Steve Cline for help. They decide that the simplest way to find out what happened to her brother is for Steve to take Bruce’s place, both at work and at home. So Steve slips unobtrusively into Bruce’s world. He moves into his apartment and gets a job at Stone Manor Farm where he patrols the foaling barns. And he develops relationships with the men and women who have been a part of Bruce’s life, from the farm’s wealthy owners and rich clientele to the roughshod barn help and some unscrupulous thugs. The more Steve learns, the more he suspects that Corey may never see her brother again because all is not as it seems in this pastoral setting where secrets and jealousies and obsessions are the norm, and the present seems to be repeating its fiery past. If Steve’s not very careful, he just might get burned.
Awards . . .
IPPY Awards Medalist and a
An excerpt . . .
When the alarm blasted me out of a dead sleep, I bolted upright and slammed my palm on the snooze button. In waking, I was intensely aware of the unfamiliar smell of the dark room, of the feel of bed sheets that weren’t mine, of the heavy comforter that had slid down to my waist. The memory of where I was, and why I was getting up at eleven-thirty in the middle of the goddamn night, kicked in like a toggle switch being flipped. I groaned and flopped back on the mattress.
Four hours sleep before my long day.
I didn’t bother with a shower. If I was going to get drenched in amniotic fluid and horse urine, what was the point? When I got to Stone Manor just before midnight, every single barn was lit up. A flutter of anxiety churned through my stomach before I realized that the lights were most likely controlled by timers. Greg, my landlord, did the same thing. Extending the perceived daylight hours brought the mares into estrus earlier than nature intended, and in the thoroughbred industry, the earlier in the calendar year a foal is delivered into this world the better. Each month of growth and development he gained over his contemporaries would work to his advantage. He’d be just a little stronger, just a bit more coordinated, and with luck, faster than his stablemates. I punched my timecard, picked up the keys to one of the farm trucks, and went in search of Maddie.
A plume of exhaust drifted from a Stone Manor truck that idled by the doors to barn six. I pulled into the drive and spotted Paul Genoa’s car parked on the grass. I left the engine running and approached the doorway, mildly annoyed.
My annoyance shifted to concern when Maddie’s shrill voice cut through the still air. “I am not!”
I strode into the barn.
“And even if I was,” she yelled, “it’s none of your damn business.”
They were midway down the aisle, and Paul had his left hand clamped around Maddie’s elbow. “Come on, honey. Don’t do this to me. You’re my--”
“Don’t you get it?” Maddie shrieked and yanked her arm free. “I’m not your anything.”
Paul latched onto her arms, and she pulled back.
“Let her go, Paul,” I said, and their heads whipped around at the sound of my voice. I walked calmly toward them.
REVIEWS . . .
Author: Ehrman, Kit
Publisher: Poisoned Pen
Price (hardback): $24.95
ISBN (hardback): 1-59058-143-1
review date: December 15, 2004
"Foul play among the thoroughbreds brings Ehrman's young Lochinvar riding to the rescue once more."
Steve Cline, hero of Ehrman's horse-whodunits (Dead Man's Touch, 2003, etc.), rarely saddles up, but that doesn't mean he lacks for derring-do. Show Steve a damsel in distress, and he's off to the races. The damsel this time is sweet Corey Claremont, a client at Maryland's Foxdale Farm, where Steve is barn manager. Corey's brother has gone lost, strayed, or stolen. Will Steve place his famous investigative powers, his well-known resourcefulness, and his knight-errantry in her service and please find out which? Of course. Off he goes undercover, signing on for the nightshift at Stone Manor, the breeding farm in Warrenton, Virginia, where Bruce Claremont was last seen. There, he meets elegant, troubled Dr. Deirdre Nash, who owns the place, and saucy, bouncy Maddie O'Connell, expert midwife to anything equine and indefatigable temptress to anything in pants. He meets the motley collection of men who lust after them and does all the lusting proper to a 20-year-old hero himself, though never at the expense of his knightly mission. As for Bruce, it turns out there are darker aspects to the Claremont gene pool than Corey ever imagined.
While gallant Steve isn't always believable, he's increasingly irresistible in Ehrman's best yet.
review date: February 2005
Ehrman’s third Steve Cline mystery finds Cline working the night shift at a Virginia Thoroughbred farm in foaling season, and the detailed, apparently accurate account of what normally goes on there is among the book’s chief attractions. Another is Cline’s secret attempt to find out what was behind the baffling disappearance of his predecessor, Bruce Claremont, whose knockout sister has convinced Cline to play sleuth. In that role, he encounters a rash of arson fires that eerily mimics a spate of fires that occurred 19 years earlier, an irrationally jealous boyfriend of one of the farm’s knockout employees, and a quantity of missing cocaine—each of these may or may not be related to Claremont’s disappearance, but all of them put Cline squarely in harm’s way. Ehrman skillfully ratchets up the suspense en route to a surprising conclusion that nonetheless makes perfect sense. That is to say she fully engages the reader, then leaves him or her satisfied. What more could you ask of a mystery? ~ Dennis Dodge
The Daily Oakland Press
review date: March 13, 2005
Horse sense fuels mystery 'Cold Burn'
When Corey Claremont’s brother, Bruce, quits his job and disappears, Corey asked her friend Steve Cline to look into things. Steve is in his early twenties and manages the hunter/jumper show barns at Foxdale Farm in Maryland. When not otherwise involved with horses, he's an amateur detective. But he also has made a deal with himself-when he doesn't feel like he's learning anything new on a job, he moves on. And, in Kit Ehrman's "Cold Burn," he feels like it's time to do just that. So, conveniently, he takes the position left open by Bruce's disappearance, working the night shift on a thoroughbred breeding farm in Virginia called Stone Manor Farm. Stone Manor Farm is a big operation with 11 barns, and during foaling season - January through June - anywhere between 100 to 200 pregnant horses on hand. Steve's job involves keeping an eye on the mares, delivering foals when necessary, mucking out stalls and taking care of the horses. In and of itself, it's pretty fascinating and to most readers is probably almost as exotic as daily life in Tunisia.
Meanwhile, somebody is setting barns on fire in the surrounding areas. Bruce is still very much missing, though there are hints that he either fooled around with the wrong woman or was involved in a drug deal gone bad. The other employees of Stone Manor Farm are a mixed and motley bunch, including the dangerously flirtatious Maddie; the violently jealous Paul; the elegant owner of the farms, Dr. Deirdre Nash; her husband, Victor; and their precocious and charming daughter, Jenny. Steve finds himself in the middle of all the drama, as well as the criminal investigations, as a vortex of violence draws him in from the periphery.
Ehrman has been favorably compared to writer Dick Francis. It's an easy comparison to make, especially now that Francis has retired from writing. Both are terrific writers who set mystery novels in the rarefied world of horse racing and breeding. Both have as main characters a young, decent man with a high threshold for pain, a passion for horses, a complex personal life and a nose for trouble. Kit Ehrman, however, is Kit Ehrman, and her work stands alone. "Cold Burn" is a terrific, engaging novel full of bits of horse breeding arcana, and a more complex and realistic view of life and death - and birth - than can usually be found in the standard mystery novel. by Kit Ehrman, Poisoned Pen Press, 334 pages, $24.95
review date: January 15, 2005
The nitty-gritty grunt work that takes place off the race track, and out of sight in the horse barns where mares are bred and foaled, is the backdrop for Ehrman’s absorbing third mystery to feature Steve Cline, a bright and observant young barn manager (after 2003’s Dead Man’s Touch). At the behest of his friend Corey Claremont, Cline takes a job on Virginia’s Stone Manor Farm to look into the disappearance of Corey’s brother, Bruce, who quit his job abruptly. Like Bruce, Steve is assigned the grueling "foal watch" night shift. His search for clues to the whereabouts of his missing predecessor begins at the farm and spreads far afield, leading him to investigate arson, murder and drug-dealing while he fends off dangers from a variety of sources. Suspicion points toward a bullying stable worker but also toward a jealous co-worker—and later to one of the farm’s two owners and then to the other. Steve demonstrates more grit than deductive powers and more sense about the horses he cares for than the women crowding his life, but he has a pleasing honesty. Ehrman’s knowledge and exposition of life on a horse farm is most impressive and enjoyable. (Feb 4)
FORECAST: A blurb from Rita Mae Brown, an enthusiastic horsewoman who lives in Virginia, will help attract cozy fans who might overlook this one.
Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine
review date: February 4, 2005
Kit Ehrman’s impressive series also centers on the horseracing industry, and she reaches a peak in her third entry, Cold Burn ($24.95), featuring young Steve Cline. But where McEvoy spins a caper novel, Ehrman probes deep into the workings of the breed farm.
Steve Cline, in effect, goes undercover on the foal watch to try to discover why a previous worker, Bruce Claremont, the brother of a friend of his, has disappeared. The foal watch is the early morning shift that lasts from three a.m. to noon on the Virginia horse-breeding farm, Stone Manor, where Cline finds himself few clues and a plethora of suspects.
Ehrman spices her crime novel with drugs, arson, and assault, and populates it with suspects ranging from the farm’s owners to their wealthy clients to the barn laborers who share Cline’s work load. Cline is better with horses than he is with detection, but he is stubborn and stalwart as he absorbs lessons and beatings and hangs onto his mission.
Kit Ehrman’s real strength, however, is her canny ability to carry the reader into the foaling barn so that its sights and sounds and smells and vitality are completely vivid. Cold Burn should make readers seek out her earlier novels.