Title: Race into Murder
Author: Karen Black
When a talented racehorse becomes the catalyst for murder, leaving an innocent man’s life hanging in the balance, the ordinary lives of racehorse owners Jeff and Natalie are upended, as well as that of their friends and families. Danger lurks in unexpected places, and as a race against time unfolds to discover the truth, Jeff and Natalie must determine whether the people they thought they knew can still be trusted, or if the real killer is simply hiding in plain sight, too close for comfort, waiting for the opportunity to strike again.
Mysteries and plot twists are always tricky to get right. It takes skill to use red herrings so that readers are kept on the edge of their seats, making up theories about which character is responsible for the murder. Viewed from this perspective, Karen Black has done a good job on this book. Not only are we kept guessing about the perpetrator’s identity or motives, for a good long while we are also kept guessing about which character might be in danger.
Murder mysteries also require the use of foreshadowing so that when the big reveal arrives, it doesn’t come out of the blue. Readers might be surprised, but they’ll be able to look back on previous scenes or events and say that the conclusion, while not necessarily foregone, makes sense in a satisfying sort of way. In this sense, the book might have benefitted from further editing to cut out red herrings and extraneous parts that aren’t strictly necessary so that readers can focus on the clues and plot points that they ought to focus on.
Race Into Murder is largely driven by the strength of its characters. Despite the large cast, both main and supporting characters were given distinct voices, interesting backstories, and airtime that is appropriately proportional to their role in driving the plot forward. Relationships were allowed to unfold in an organic fashion, and the connection between characters were woven into the main narrative in a way that adds to the build-up and layering of tension. The racehorses also brought something special to the story and were used extremely well to capture the atmosphere, passion, and excitement of horseracing.
In addition, the pacing of the story is a clever sleight of hand which pays off when the novel reaches its turning point, and all cards are laid on the table. At first, readers might wonder why Karen Black spends an inordinate amount of time showing us the daily lives of owners Jeff and Natalie, along with their horses and stable hands and jockeys, their friends and neighbors, their rivals and enemies. There are some who might feel like it took a while for the book to feel like a suspense thriller.
But when it does, readers will suddenly realize how invested they are in the lives of these characters and that they actually care whether any of them lived or died. The danger and the intrigue, the search for the truth, and all the usual ingredients of a good whodunit rightly takes center stage halfway through the book, but the fact that the emotional stakes have already been raised through the various character arcs is what makes for a good reading experience.
Race Into Murder is an atmospheric, thrilling, and well-plotted murder mystery that perfectly captures the essence of its subject matter, both the two-legged and four-legged variety. The infinite ways that human beings can love, as well as their infinite capacity to do harm in the name of power and greed, are the foundations upon which the story is built, and it’s used to maximum effect by the assured and skillful hands of its author. Race Into Murder is a worthy addition to any mystery reader’s bookshelf and will surely be accepted with open arms by fans of the genre.
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