Secrets. Lies. Family.

Outside of a Horse v2June 1889. When Pastor Thoreson’s sister-in-law arrives in the town called Horse she immediately becomes the victim of a crime. With Constable Jack Merrick deep in the early stages of grief over losing his wife, his good friend Walt is pressed into service to try to solve the mystery.

With assistance from close friends, Walt must find a way to help the Thoresons before Merrick’s superiors discover his absence.

The Outside of a Horse is part of a new series of short historical mysteries from award-winning author Alexandra Amor.

A cross between the gentle rhythms and supportive relationships of Call the Midwife and the historical charm of Little House on the Prairie, the Town Called Horse stories are perfect for readers who like their mysteries with well-drawn characters and a lot of heart.

To celebrate the release of my brand new short historical mystery I thought I’d share a story about nails.

These are no ordinary nails. And they’re not the kind you have at the end of your fingers.

These are nails forged by hand in a small blacksmith shop in a town called Horse.

Let me start at the beginning

In 2014, I travelled to a historical ranch in central BC called Hat Creek Ranch. The ranch is a living museum, like Blackcreek Pioneer Village in Ontario (only smaller) or Barkerville, also here in BC.

Hat Creek Ranch

Riding shotgun on a stagecoach at Hat Creek Ranch, June, 2014

Hat Creek Ranch was a working ranch in the 1860s, and a place for those on the gold rush trail to stop and buy supplies. All the original buildings have been maintained and restored and it is a fascinating place to go to get a glimpse of what life was like in BC in the 1800s.

Basically the perfect place for me to go and do some research for my Town Called Horse mystery novels, which were just a glint in my eye at that time.

The entire ranch was an amazing experience, and I even got to ride upfront with the stagecoach driver, while he taught me how the rig for the horses works. He also explained the ingenious way the brakes on a stagecoach work so that when it is traveling downhill, it doesn’t push the horses from behind.

Meet the Blacksmith

If you’ve read any of my historical mysteries, including Charlie Horse, you’ll know that the main character – the amateur sleuth – is a schoolteacher named Julia Thom.

I have set myself a writing challenge for 2018 to release a new short mystery each month this year. And one of the reasons I’m doing that is that I’d like to write a few of these shorter mysteries from the point of view of others in the town called Horse. Others who include one of Julia’s new friends, Walt Sheehan, the town blacksmith and livery owner.

blacksmith Hat Creek Ranch

The blacksmith hard at work at Hat Creek Ranch, June 2014

Walt was calling to me. When I finished writing A One Horse Open Sleigh I knew that the next book would feature him as the protagonist. And in fact, the book is set a year before Julia arrives in town to start her new job as schoolteacher.

Luckily, I had made the trip to Hat Creek Ranch a few years earlier and had an up close and personal experience in an 1860s blacksmith shop.

Nails, nails and more nails

The blacksmith, whose name I didn’t catch, unfortunately, gave a mini lecture on what life was like for a blacksmith in the 1800s. The backbone of that business, it turns out, was nails. Each and every nail used to build the buildings and barns in a town or on a ranch, was forged by hand.

Blacksmith's nail

Hand forged blacksmith’s nail

At left you’ll see an image of the nail he made for me there in the ranch smithy. I’ve put it beside a pen so you can see the scale. It’s freaking huge! Can you even imagine hammering that thing into a log or piece of wood? The strength it must have taken.

The fellow working as the blacksmith at Hat Creek Ranch said that a blacksmith could churn out dozens of these in an hour. And that they were the backbone of the business. The constant building going on on the frontier required a continual supply of nails.

And this is why I write about a time that is so foreign to us now. Tiny details like this are so fascinating to me.

The lives we lead now are SO much easier than at any time in history. I’m obsessed with how difficult life was for millenia until very, very recently.

The Outside of a Horse

The Outside of a HorseSo when you read this, my latest mystery from the British Columbia frontier, you’ll notice I mention Walt Sheehan and the nails that he’s working on. And also that he’s constantly interrupted in that task during the few days the book takes place because of a small detail.

…he needs to solve a mystery. ;-)

The Outside of a Horse is available now at all online retailers

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