What do the locals do for excitement Friday nights in Harkins Valley? Turn out to watch the fires one of them is setting in boarding stables. It’s a puzzle for Detective Jeri Ward, of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s office, and a trial for horse vet Gail McCarthy (Breakaway, 2001, etc.), who’s called to each scene to examine the surviving horses and speculate who could be torching their homes. The first target is Bishop Ranch Stable, the family business managed by her old friend Clay Bishop’s brother Bart, who naturally becomes a prime suspect when Jeri thinks he’s torched his own barn for the insurance. But police suspicions shift when Christy George and Lucy Kaplan fall victim to the same arsonist, who incidentally kills Lucy’s caretaker in passing. Could the perp be flirtatious new veterinarian Hans Schmidt, Gail’s junior colleague John Romero, juvenile offender Marty Martin, or Larry Rogers, who loves watching a good blaze—all of whom, by an unforgivable stroke of coincidence, turn out to have arson in their backgrounds? Gail, who catches the miscreant in the act of starting a fourth fire, ought to be able to tell; but her memory is fogged by concussion, and maybe by her trademark dithering between devoted, reliable Clay Bishop and sexy, withdrawn Blue Winter, who’s willing but by no means eager to court her properly if that’s what it takes.
Heart-rending scenes of hurting horses, reliable veterinary procedure, minimal detection, and a deft solution. The best news, however, may be Gail’s stated intention to quit straddling that romantic fence for good.