I just finished Greg Buchanan’s Sixteen Horses.
It’s a fantastic book, but I was a little misled at first. You see, I thought it was a thriller. In fact the phrase “…highly suspenseful thriller…” is in a blurb on the back cover.
My friends, Sixteen Horses is not a highly suspenseful thriller.
What it is is a fantastic book, one of my favorites of the year so far.
It is a literary mystery, but “literary mystery” sells far fewer copies than “highly suspenseful thriller” so I understand why they went with the later.
Sixteen Horses begins as a police detective, Alec Nichols, gets called to scene of something that is possibly not even a crime he should be investigating at all; the heads of sixteen horses have been found, carefully arranged on a farm.
He is then joined by forensic veterinarian Cooper Allen as they try to figure out where the horses came from and if the bodies are in the ground or if it is just he heads.
And who would do such a thing, and why?
The book’s primary quality for me was the strength of Greg Buchanan’s writing. This book, for me, was a similar reading experience to Ondaatje’s The English Patient; I don’t care about the plot, the prose takes center stage.
My short review on Twitter sums my thoughts up quite nicely:
It feels like a Vandermeer book at times; a dark literary mystery (though without any speculative elements).
All this said, the mystery in Sixteen Horses is quite strong. It is the engine of the book. Who put the horses there. Why sixteen? Why this farm?
Fifty feet away, the field gave way to freshly tilled brown soil, forming mounds everywhere on the uneven earth. Chalky rocks littered the plot in every direction. Each step in this place was as muddy and wet as the last.
Further still, a thin metal fence marked the edge of the land, clots of wool decorating the wire like fairy lights where the sheep had once tried to break through.
But there were no animals in sight now. There was nothing but detritus.
“I don’t see what-“
“There”, the farmer interrupted. “In the ground.”
Alec looked down. For a moment, he saw nothing but dirt.
“I don’t -“
Alec stopped talking, a breeze moving past them both. Something shook along the soil.
He removed his torch and stepped forward, pointing its light at the source. Just three feet away, almost the same color as the mud itself, there lay a great mound of black hair, coiled in thick and silken spirals.
I suggest you get yourself a copy.