I’ve just about finished the third Jo Grant mystery, though my editor won’t be able to work on it till the beginning of March – which probably means it won’t be out till late April or early May.
The book revolves around an equine veterinary family in Versailles, Kentucky whose equine clinic’s under attack in ways they never expected. Like Breeding Ground and Behind The Bonehouse, the book’s “written” by Jo Grant Munro, who was involved directly, as well as indirectly, in the conflict that drives the plot.
Jo’s restored the cabin on the south end of her broodmare care farm as a rental property, and Meg MacInness, the widow who lived there in the mid-to-late 1960s, leaves a set of recording tapes after her death years later asking Jo to write down what had happened to her and her husband’s equine practice after his death, when an experienced vet managed the clinic so the MacInness’ newly qualified son could get the experience he’d need to run it later on.
The situation that develops – in a Thoroughbred culture that can disregard honesty, and quality care as well – leads to a form of relentless aggression that kills, and threatens worse, as Meg and Michael MacInness watch their life’s work being destroyed from inside and out.
Meg MacInness’ fears and worries, as she watches her son being shunned and persecuted and driven toward death, become the emotional heart of the book, while the two of them search for the first shred of evidence that will prove what they suspect about wrong doing at the clinic.
The plot is based on very specific aspects of equine medicine, and I interviewed equine vets here in Ohio, and in central Kentucky, as well as a world-renowned expert on equine fertility at a vet school in Texas – both those in practice now, as well as those who worked in clinics in the sixties and seventies. Equine medicine was substantially different sixty years ago, and trying to determine exactly what was being done when, what was known and what wasn’t, was far more complicated than I’d expected.
The vets I consulted had minor differences in perspectives as well, which shouldn’t have been surprising. It was like consulting a group of “people” doctors, and having to sort through more than one opinion – which means any mistakes that remain are my fault and not theirs.
The two questions I asked them all were: “What would a dishonest vet in the sixties have done to make money unethically? And what dishonest practices do you know vets have been guilty of?” The vets I talked to were pretty appalled by both questions – till they began to enjoy the speculation. They’ve cared about the horses they’ve treated, and the thought of harming them, or cheating the racing public, bothered them a lot. And, of course, they hated the idea of a fictional vet giving the profession a bad name. And yet they helped. They all went out of their way, and made the process of writing the book intriguing for me.
There was much more too, that I needed to know, about the Thoroughbred business in Kentucky, and I pestered librarians at the Keeneland Racecourse Library before I got to Lexington, and then spent a day there working in their archives with their guidance and help. It’s a world class facility with collections that go back to 1936, and working there – sitting at beautiful desks in comfortable chairs, surrounded by elegant paneling, with fine equine art on every wall – made doing the research a pleasure.
And, of course, there are other story lines besides the MacInness one that complicate the mystery, with new characters and old as well, that grow out of the history of Lexington and the folks I’ve met there over the years.
Titles never come easily to me, but I’m toying with The Outsiding. And I’m looking forward to the last round of editing that makes all the difference in the long run between a book that’s slightly off key, and one with moments that almost sing.