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"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread."
– Edward Abbey  
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 9 September 2019  

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  “The Clincher”
  By Robin Widmar

   Readers of murder mysteries are familiar with everyday characters who become amateur sleuths. Author Lisa Preston provides a refreshingly different take on this trope with a horseshoer-turned-detective in “The Clincher.”
   
   Rainy Dale is a farrier (someone who trims and shoes horses’ hooves) living and working around Cowdry, Oregon. As a relative newcomer to the area, she is still assimilating into the community. As a woman working in a profession traditionally dominated by men, she also strives to be accepted by her male peers and potential clients. But Rainy loves her work, the horses and the area she now calls home, and she isn’t about to give up any time soon.
   
   The story opens with Rainy shoeing a fussy horse owned by equally fussy Patsy-Lynn Harper, the wife of a ranch owner described by Rainy as “a rich, older fellow whose only kid was already raised.” Rainy doesn’t give it much thought when Patsy-Lynn asks if she would like to stay for coffee and a chat, but the uncharacteristic invitation takes on a whole new meaning when Patsy-Lynn winds up dead later that day. Rainy becomes a person of interest since she was the last person to see Patsy-Lynn alive, and an incriminating bloody hoof rasp was found at the scene. She launches her own investigation and uncovers a list of predictable but viable suspects, including a former ranch hand fired for stealing, Patsy-Lynn’s stepson and even a rival farrier.
   
   One of the people in her corner is Guy Kittredge, a chef working at a local diner who aspires to open his own restaurant. He is also Rainy’s landlord and maybe her boyfriend –- she is not sure since she still pays rent to live in Guy’s garage but occasionally joins him for a good meal and a proverbial romp in the hay. “Was it just convenience? A sexy, good guy with a pasture and empty garage to use as a bedroom, a hookup that didn’t unlatch?” she wonders.
   
   After she is questioned at the sheriff’s office, Guy tells Rainy, “You’re a gentle soul. You’re not capable of murder.” Rainy thinks, I’m part-Texican. Of course I can kill. But aloud she says, “You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’m capable of.”
   
   Rainy’s insistence on keeping her secrets (“leave the past where it is” is her mantra), and Guy’s determination to pry them out of her, combine with their muddled relationship to form a significant subplot. Rainy clearly sees him as a friend and maybe something more, but she frequently pelts him with sharp sarcasm and sometimes downright hostility. It’s a wonder he puts up with her, but admirably he does. When Guy comes through for Rainy in a big way during the story’s climatic scene, she begins to reconsider her unwillingness to trust him. By the end of the book, the mystery behind Rainy’s harsh treatment of a good-hearted man becomes more clear, even if her rude behavior is not entirely excusable.
   
   “The Clincher” is written in Rainy’s first person point of view, which provides ample opportunities for readers to experience her unique and colorful perspective. Her strong Texas dialect and down-home expressions lean toward cliché but are generally entertaining. They also serve as effective tools to demonstrate who Rainy Dale is as a person. Those who share their lives with horses will relate to descriptions such as “Red was one of those (horses) who sometimes has a switch flip in his head and suddenly a fine animal is only taking orders from Horse Planet. He’s not a joyous gift from God when he’s like this.”
   
   Preston has created a strong, engaging protagonist with unflinching honesty and an interesting backstory. The complicated relationship between Rainy and Guy drives the story as much as the mystery of who killed Patsy-Lynn, but without straying into gushy romance territory. Their differing opinions on just about everything (he explains there is a difference between casserole and cassoulet; she calls his little car “an embarrassment” compared to her pickup) add a fun dimension. As for the territory of Cowdry and its surroundings, Preston describes them efficiently, allowing readers to sample the community’s flavor without going overboard on flowery prose.
   
   The title of “The Clincher” refers to a technique called clinching that is used to bend a driven horseshoe nail to hold it to the hoof. It could also have some metaphorical meaning for Rainy and Guy’s relationship. Or it could refer to the author clinching a deal with her readers to pick up the second book in the series, which is scheduled for release in November 2019.
  
 
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