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Foal Play by Kathryn O'Sullivan
Cover Artist: Photo of beach scene by Eric Full / Shutterstock; Illustration of legs: Ben Perini
Photo of horses by Fred Hurteau
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250026590
Date: 07 May 2013 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Fire Chief Colleen McCabe lives in the idyllic coastal village of Corolla, North Carolina. While chasing wild Spanish mustangs, rambunctious teenagers discover the charred remains of a corpse on the beach. Afterwards, during the 4th of July celebration, the house of Myrtle Crepe, local school teacher and obnoxious busybody, is set afire and her charred corpse found in the kitchen. With the help of her love interest, Currituck County Sheriff Bill Dorman, and her Border collie, Sparky, Colleen investigates the rash of murders that is plaguing the resort town.

Initially, I thought Kathyrn O'Sullivan's Foal Play was going to be a bloody crime drama or violent noir. It began with an excellent prologue that quickly grabbed my attention. However, when one of the major characters dons a ridiculous disguise, it became quite evident that I was reading a cozy. I've read many cozies and enjoyed most of them. They provided me with a much needed respite from the bloody crime dramas of which I normally partake. They are sweet, humorous and romantic; however, they normally have engaging Agatha Christie-like mysteries that perplex and confound the reader. I had to suspend much more than my disbelief upon reading Foal Play. I had to suspend my common knowledge about police and medical procedures.

Two weeks have passed since the discovery of the charred corpse in Myrtle Crepe's kitchen and the medical examiner (ME) is still too backlogged to perform an autopsy. This is totally unacceptable. What have they been doing? Performing autopsies on roadkill? The autopsy on the charred corpse should have taken precedence. If the ME was unavailable, then another one from a nearby county should have been summoned. The plot had more holes than a sieve. Its strengths, however, were the excellent setting and the likeable characters, including the Border collie, Sparky. I live within an hour's drive of Corolla and can testify that this community, like most of the Outer Banks, is beautiful. Also, having owned a Border collie named Tex for twelve years, I can also testify that they are very intelligent, affectionate, loyal dogs who love to herd other animals.

The author knows how to pluck the reader's heartstrings by throwing in a cute pet or child. She also knows how to keep me from tossing aside the novel by introducing another calamity. The central mystery, nevertheless, is rather lame. Colleen suspects any stranger she sees as a potential killer. One might accuse her and the entire village of racial profiling or racial stereotyping. Citizens imagine that successful real estate developer, Antonio "Pinky" Salvatore, is connected to the Mob simply because he is an Italian from Long Island, New York. If my Hispanic dad visits Corolla, will the locals assume he is a migrant worker in search of a job harvesting crops?

Foal Play has the requisite love triangle in which Colleen finds herself romantically pursued by Pinky and Sheriff Bill Dorman. There are also a couple of red herrings that are obviously red herrings. The killer is stupid and is easily caught when they fall for the oldest trick in the mystery genre.

Unfortunately, the novel that began with a bang of potential ended with a disappointing fizzle. Therefore, Kathyrn O'Sullivan's Foal Play is only recommended for fans of sugary sweet cozies who don't want their powers of deductive reasoning taxed too much while lying on the warm sands of the Outer Banks. When visiting this version of Corolla, please wear a fire-proof bracelet with your engraved name; in case you are murdered, so the inept authorities will be able to identify your corpse.

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