Sunday, May 8, 2011
Full Mortality: A Nikki Latrelle Racing Mystery by Sasscer Hill
Midsummr at Hoganvillaea Farm: White Rock Hens, Zinnias, and Cosmos.
Full Mortality. Sasscer Hill. A Nikki Latrelle Racing Mystery. Wildside Press, Rockville, MD, 20850. 2010. 176 pp. ISBN: 978-1-4344-0398-8. A Review.
The cover of Sasscer Hill’s first mystery novel, Full Mortality, proclaims it "America’s answer to Dick Francis." I was never one to become involved with horses, and I surprised myself a few years ago when I went through every Dick Francis novel I could get my hands on. I even found a few in the Kostroma, Russia, regional library.
This claim about Full Mortality is true. I never figured out how Francis kept me racing through his pages, but I recognize the same mysterious pace and constant tension in Full Mortality as Nikki, a young jockey, once a run-away from an abusive step-father, pulled me from one danger to another, revealing her physical and spiritual courage, and what I can only call grit–the same grit I find in Sue Grafton’s character Kinsey Milhone.
Yet the voice, the story, and the characters are very much Hill’s own creation. This lonely, compassionate young woman stumbles into the middle of con men, insurance and betting scams, and grieves over every abused horse. She can set aside her errors about people, who betray and mistreat her right and left, and risk everything she has to save a horse or bring a killer to justice. She rises again every time she is deceived or knocked down. She simply won’t give up.
This novel was nominated for an Agatha in the recent Malice Domestic mystery convention in Bethesda, for the first best traditional mystery novel of 2010, and deserves a wide audience, beyond the world of horses and racing. Sasscer Hill not only knows her horses, but the human world that surrounds them.
What I love best are the relationships of trust and love that Nikki builds with the rather gruff horse-trainer Jim, for whom she rides and occasionally snags jockey jobs; her friend Lorna, who had been in a reform school and is slowly pulling herself up because of her love for horses. Nikki helps her with a difficult horse, but Lorna has her turn to rescue Nikki. Then there’s Mello, the black man who knows horses in a way that goes beyond intuition into mysticism. He claims Nikki’s horse is the same fabulous horse that won races years earlier. Nikki is spooked at first but comes to trust Mello, who never lets her down.
I like the way Hill breaks all the stereotypes. Reading this book is fun but at the same time, deeply serious and moving. Here’s a mystery author who writes with her heart in her mouth. Read her. For more about Nikki and Sasscer: http://fullmortality.blogspot.com
Judy Hogan, Hoganvillaea Farm, Moncure, N.C.
*** I will soon post my thoughts on the Malice Domestic conference, where I enjoyed the awards banquet sitting beside Sasscer Hill. JH