PEQUOT LAKES -- Behind the glitzy veneer of the big time horse business lies a darker side, frothing with fraud and corruption and even murder.
At least that's the premise of "Horse Sense," a mystery-suspense novel by a pair of writers with Brainerd area connections.
The fiction, in fact, was inspired in part by several sensational criminal cases that have marred the $112 billion-a-year horse industry's glamorous image in recent years, said Georgianne Nienaber.
The Pequot Lakes horsewoman co-authored her first novel with Karin Bundesen Baltzell, a psychologist and writer who lived here before moving to the Twin Cities about five years ago.
The collaborators published "Horse Sense" last June on their own Imari Press label, a self-publishing experience they will discuss from noon to 1 p.m. Monday at the Brainerd Public Library's "brown bag" luncheon speaker series. Admission is free.
With familiar Minnesota settings, "Horse Sense" tells the story of an investigation into the mysterious deaths of champion show horses, killed for the insurance money.
The novel's protagonist is insurance investigator Carlos Dega, aided and abetted by a female assistant U.S. attorney out of the Minneapolis office.
The book's themes spring directly from several actual court cases involving similar schemes, including the recent conviction in Illinois of 13 people charged with killing horses for insurance payoffs, the authors say in their promotional materials.
"The novel isn't based on any actual case but we mention a lot of other actual cases, court history, court lore," Nienaber said in an interview this week.
"The people in the horse industry know what we are talking about," she added, "but we wanted to present the story in an entertaining way so that it would be understandable to those who have never been involved in the horse business before."
If you go
Who: Georgianne Nienaber and Karin Bundesen Baltzell
Where: Brainerd Public Library
When: Noon-1 p.m. Monday
The longtime friends -- both writers are wives of physicians -- began their collaboration in 1999 to "fill in a niche where there is very little reality-based fiction pertaining to horses on the market," their promotional material says.
"Horses are so romanticized that the public doesn't know about the abuse that goes on behind the scenes," Nienaber said. "It's not an indictment against the major players but there are enough bad apples out there -- she calls them the 'horse mafia' -- to make it uncomfortable for the rest of us.
"When money changes hands, when there's lots of prize money and breeding fees involved, anything can happen," she added.
Nienaber, who owns four horses, said she brought an equestrian expertise to the writing collaboration, while Baltzell had developed a knack for the mystery genre, winning a 1997 mystery-writing contest.
Their strategy was to attract a major publisher by bringing the novel directly to print themselves, rather than shop around their finished manuscript, Nienaber said.
The authors worked with Nelson Graphics to design the book and hired Bang Printing of Brainerd to print the novel, listing it for sale on their Web site, www.horsemysteries.com.
"We wanted a product in hand rather than a dry, old manuscript," she said with a chuckle. "Instead of sending out copies and getting rejections we self-published and marketed the book to the horse industry to see if they liked it."
So far the strategy has worked, Nienaber said. About half the 1,000 initial press run has been sold through the authors' Web site or at horse shows and tack shops throughout the region.
In recent weeks "Horse Sense" has attracted the attention of a major media company, Nienaber said, but the author declined to discuss the deal that's in the works.
"The rights are being negotiated right now (with a company) outside the horse industry," she said.
The writing team also is at work on a second novel featuring the same protagonists, but its completion may depend on the outcome of negotiations with "Horse Sense," Nienaber said.
"If we're never going to be accepted as mystery writers, we don't want to waste our time on it," although the second novel could be completed after a month of hard work, she said.
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