In one of those great-minds-think-alike moments, two novels with the exact same title were recently published within days of one another, and each features a murder mystery in Kentucky.
One of the novels is written by D.C. Alexander, who grew up in the Puget Sound region, earned his law degree from the University of Oregon and later became a federal agent.
Alexander divides his time between Kentucky and Washington state’s Kitsap Peninsula.
“Blood in the Bluegrass” is his latest book, a police procedural set in horse-racing country.
The story opens when Louisville Police Detective Laurel Arno and her partner, Detective Trey Hewson, are called to the scene of an apparent suicide. A small man has been found hanging from the rafters of a rickety garage not far from Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
Arno soon discerns that the suicide was actually staged in an effort to conceal a homicide. It turns out that the dead man was a rising star in the racing world.
This sets Arno and Hewson on a trail that will lead them through the moneyed world of thoroughbred breeders, bourbon barons, and high-stakes gamblers who gamble with more than just money.
Readers will meet a large and lively cast of characters, many of them with secrets. As the duo investigates for possible motives and likely suspects, they begin to receive threats, both veiled and overt, that indicate they are stepping on the toes of people in powerful places.
Plot twists and sidelines involve forbidden liaisons, family feuds and political corruption.
Along the way, Arno advises her junior partner in some of the tricks of their trade. She frequently doles out good advice like “Never disregard a commonality” and “Don’t revel in human weakness.”
The partners’ relationship extends somewhat beyond their working lives. This is more complicated than a trite romance, keeping things interesting.
Both Arno and Hewson have hearty appetites and always seem to be stopping by the best places to eat around Louisville before they do surveillance or after they talk to a witness.
While “Blood in the Bluegrass” starts out as a police procedural, it frequently becomes a de facto foodies’ guide instead, as the author enthusiastically detours into describing the eats and drinks at dozens of actual drive-ins, cafes, bakeries and bars throughout Louisville.
This becomes such a habitually mouthwatering distraction that some readers, like yours truly, may forget what the actual case is all about.
This novel does nice work of describing the Bluegrass State, a place that many of us may never experience in person. However, the plot tends to get lost in the busy ambiance until the wry ending reminds us what the novel was all about.