September 23, 2002 12:00 PM

By Tami Hoag

Florida horse country provides the backdrop for a thriller as tightly wound as its heroine. Every night trust-fund baby and disgraced-sheriff’s-detective-turned-horse-trainer Elena Estes replays the past in her mind. Fingering her stash of Vicodin pills, she weighs whether to swallow one and ease the pain caused by the incident that ended her law enforcement career or down 30 and end everything. Just one thing keeps her going: “The horses were a connection to my life,” she says, “and every hour I spent with them was a reprieve.”

Enter Molly Seabright, a precocious 12-year-old with a missing sister. Soon Elena is knee-deep in manure, murder and money as she runs afoul of an oddball cast of characters who make Jerry Springer’s kookiest guests look like extras from Leave It to Beaver. Hoag, the author of 10 bestsellers, has created a winning central figure in Elena, whose solid horse—and people—sense make her a reassuring and reliable guide. (Bantam, $26.95)

Bottom Line: Great ride

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