Melanie Travis lives in Connecticut, teaches at Howard Academy, and shares a loving home with her husband, two sons, and five Standard Poodles. Over spring break Melanie and her favorite poodle, Faith, accompany Aunt Peg and sister-in-law Bertie to the Kentuckiana Dog Show Cluster in Louisville, where Aunt Peg will be a judge and pregnant Bertie will exhibit dogs.
Aunt Peg also has additional business in Kentucky. She recently inherited a Thoroughbred broodmare named Lucky Luna who's stabled at a horse farm there, and Peg wants to see the horse and consult with the professionals caring for her.
As it happens Aunt Peg's old friend Ellie Gates Wanamaker, a former exhibitor of Standard Poodles who grew up on a Thoroughbred farm, lives in Kentucky. So Aunt Peg and Melanie drop in on Miss Ellie, where Aunt Peg hopes to gain some insight into the business of raising/racing Thoroughbreds. Afterwards Miss Ellie agrees to drop in on the Kentuckiana Dog Show where Melanie notices that - though the former exhibitor is welcomed by many old acquaintances - there's an undercurrent of whispers and hostility. Melanie soon learns that a tragic car accident a couple of decades before caused Miss Ellie to abandon the dog show business...though there's more to the story than Melanie realizes.
A few days later Miss Ellie is found dead on the farm where she grew up, apparently having fallen while walking her four Jack Russell Terriers (the cute canine on the cover). However Aunt Peg considers Miss Ellie's death suspicious and ropes Melanie into helping her investigate.
The story is billed as a mystery, and does have some mystery elements. Most of the book, though, is about dogs and Thoroughbred horses. As Aunt Peg, Melanie, and Bertie go about their business in Kentucky we learn all about dog shows: the categories in which the dogs are shown; what the judges look for; the point system used to rate the dogs; the various awards (winner, reserve, etc.); how trainers and exhibitors groom and prepare the dogs; funny things that happen at dog shows; the comraderie and rivalry among exhibitors; and more.
We also find out a good bit about the Thoroughbred racehorse business, which is apparently a very tricky enterprise. Thoroughbred horses are very costly to buy and care for and there are plenty of scoundrels in the business, ready to scam and take advantage of rich amateurs. The various schemes afloat to rook wealthy novice investors (assuming the descriptions in the book are accurate) are dismaying and fascinating. In any case I won't be buying a racehorse anytime soon....though I've been known to bet a buck or two on occasion. LOL.
I enjoyed the humorous scenes where Melanie hobnobs with eccentric friends at the dog show. One quirky older fellow - concerned about Bertie's (non-existent) morning sickness - brings her a box filled with every kind of cracker he can find (ha ha ha). I was also amused when Melanie imbibed a little too much Kentucky bourbon while chatting up a person of interest. Aunt Peg, always feisty and outspoken, is also quite entertaining - and completely resistant to Melanie's efforts to reign her in. My favorite character in the book , though, is Faith - the smart, sweet, endearing poodle who always knows when someone needs a doggie hug.
I enjoyed the book but I would have liked a little more of a mystery element, perhaps with a twist or two. Still, I learned a lot about dog shows and racehorses and would recommended the book to fans of cozies - especially animal lovers.
Thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for a copy of this book.