Seven sick horses aren't the only trouble veterinarian Gail McCarthy, of the Santa Cruz Equine Practice, finds at Ken Resavich's Indian Gulch Ranch. Casey Brooks, Ken's cowhorse trainer, insists that the colicky horses have really been poisoned (and he's right), and it's not long before Casey's own horse has two more mishaps, the second of which leaves Casey dead. Even so, know-nothing Detective Jeri Ward is content to call Casey's fatal fall an accident, so Gail launches her own unofficial investigation in two phases. First, she follows one hunch after another in an attempt to implicate the obvious suspects: dominant rival trainer Will George (who Casey insisted had ridden a ringer in the prestigious West Coast Futurity for working horses); Martha Welch, penny-pinching owner of a ``colicky'' horse Gail had put down (did she poison the horses boarding at Indian Gulch herself to cover an insurance scam?); and Melissa Waters, once Will's girlfriend, then Casey's (since Gail's not-quite-lover, Lonny Peterson, insists, cherchez la femme). When none of that works, she launches phase two and traces the phone calls Casey made the night he died, and voilÖ. Crum's no threat to Dick Francis or Sue Grafton. Despite this first novel's appealingly offbeat cowhorse background, you won't hold your breath for the sequel.