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Dark Horse    by Tami Hoag order for
Dark Horse
by Tami Hoag
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2004 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In Dark Horse, Tami Hoag exploits her skills as an accomplished equestrian in an intriguing mystery. Her protagonist, Elena Estes, is a former narcotics police detective, whose courageous efforts during a stake-out resulted in a colleague's death. As a result, she suffered extensive psychological and physical damage, and sacrificed her job.

Now 12-year-old, wise beyond her age Molly Seabright wants to hire the ex-cop to find her missing 18-year old sister Erin, who was employed as a groom for stable owner/trainer Don Jade. Molly is the only one in her dysfunctional family to be convinced that Erin is in danger. Estes, who retreated to West Palm Beach, Florida's professional horse-competition country, does not have a private investigator license. She has no interest in pursuing a new career, nor the desire to leave her self-imposed exile. But the more she learns about the people Erin was involved with, the more her police instincts are triggered. Elena decides to help Molly when a trip to the show grounds where Erin worked reveals the dark side of the glamorous horse world, involving drugs, payoffs, and cutthroat transactions.

The murder of young Jill Morone (another of Jade's grooms), attempts on Elena's life, and insurance claims for the supposedly accidental deaths of horses, add up to danger in a world of high money and high stakes. Suspects abound. They include horse and stable owners, a Belgian horse dealer who preys on women's naiveté, Don Jade and assistant trainer Paris Montgomery, and a groom from Russia. Elena approaches Detective James Landry, who first waives interest in the case because of Estes' past with the police department. With growing evidence, and a rise in the body count, Landry develops a reluctant respect for the brash Estes, and protectively assists her.

Tami Hoag delivers a suspense-filled ride leading to a finish that isn't over until it's over! Though some readers may find too much description here for their taste, it works for me, creating a vivid dramatization in my mind's eye. Hoag expresses herself through Estes' fine words: 'I don't like or trust coincidence ... Energy attracts energy, intent becomes a force of nature, and there is no such thing as coincidence.' To Detective Landry, Elena says, 'Never bet on a dark horse. You'll tear up the ticket nine times out of ten.' Dark Horse is a superior read from a classy author, who gives her characters guts and heart, and shows us that 'Life can change in a heartbeat.'

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