Sunday, March 25, 2012



Review: Racing from Death, a new Nikki Latrelle Racing Mystery

Cover of Sasscer Hill's second Nikki Latrelle racing mystery


This is a major new talent and the comparisons to Dick Francis are not hyperbole.–Margaret Maron, New York Times Best-Selling Author

Wildside Press, Paper. Feb 2012. ISBN: 978-1-4344-4040-2.


Sasscer Hill claims her Nikki Latrelle racing mysteries fit into a niche sub-genre. True, for horse-racing enthusiasts, they satisfy a known appetite, but you don’t have to know a thing about horses to enjoy Nikki’s trials and tribulations and eventual crossing the finish line in a lively, breath-taking mystery.

I was eager to read the second novel. The first, Full Mortality(Wildside, 2010), an Agatha and Mccavity nominee for first best mystery, I thoroughly enjoyed (see my blog post of May 8, 2011).

Nikki takes six of the horses in the stable of her trainer, Jim Ravinsky, to the Colonial Downs track in Virginia. With her go her friend Lorna Doone, a former addict, who can only keep her exercise riders license if she stays clean, and an old black man, Mello Pinkney, who has a sixth sense both about people and horses. He is especially close to Hellish, the horse Nikki saved form the glue factory in Full Mortality. Right before she left, a jockey named Paco Martinez died at the Laurel Park track, apparently from a drug he took to keep his weight down.

Greeting her soon after she arrives at the Virginia track is Jay Cormack, the Chief Investigator for the Virginia Racing Commission. He pressures her to spy for him, as he suspects drugs are behind the jockey’s death. She refuses, but he won’t give up. He trusts her and threatens that, if she doesn’t help him, he could throw her off the track because of Hellish’s disruptive behavior and an old felony conviction of Mello’s. 

Reluctantly Nikki takes his card. At the cottage arranged for them, Nikki’s cat, Slippers, picks up her own sidekick, a rooster which Lorna dubs McNuggett. Lorna is drawn to a local wild rich boy named Bobby Duvayne, like a moth to a candle. Nikki understands her attraction because she feels similarly beguiled by Bobby, and she warns Lorna to stay away from him, to no avail. Then Lorna comes back from her night with Bobby hopelessly enamored, and stoned.

To top it off, two new horses arrive from Ravinsky’s training stable, Stinger and Daffodil. Their spoiled, imperious, insensitive owner, Amarilla Chaquette, whom Nikki likens to a yellow jacket, has not one whit of understanding about how to treat and race her horses, and she is contemptuous of Nikki’s savvy and attempts to help her horses win races.

Creepy and inexplicable things begin to happen until it’s very clear that something is terribly wrong at this track, and Nikki is drawn into the middle of it.

As in Dick Francis’s novels, Nikki’s life and circumstances as a jockey and an exercise rider, pull us into the racing pace of Hill’s books. I love the off-beat characters like Lorna and Mello, including the cat and the rooster. I learn about a world unfamiliar to me, one thing I look for in a good mystery. I easily identify with Nikki, who doesn’t want to rat on anyone but has a strong sense of justice and an impulse to help those human and animal beings who need a lift up. She’s also a fierce fighter, once aroused. 

A favorite scene of mine in this book takes place when Nikki attends a very posh party among the rich owners and powers that be in this Virginia setting, all in honor of Chaquette. The contrast between Nikki’s unpretentiousness and the inflated sense of their importance among these rich folks adds a rich humor to the book.

May Sasscer Hill’s books continue to win all the nominations and awards they deserve.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

FINANCIAL MYSTERY AND Mayhem: Your Credit Score and Other Scams by the Banksters

I consider myself to be intelligent, educated, and fairly savvy. Recently I had a rude awakening. When it comes to credit scores, and how the banksters operate, I was naive and foolish.

Yes, yes, I knew about all the foreclosures, the people losing their homes, being forced onto the streets. Heck, Michael Connelly wrote a book about it. But I thought since I had cash in the bank and owned my home free and clear, none of this built-in-bankster-quicksand could sink me. Wrong.

My husband and I live in Prince Georges County, a high-tax and high-insurance Maryland suburb of Washington DC. Housing prices have plummeted in Prince Georges with the highest foreclosure rate of any county in the Virginia, Maryland, and DC metropolitan area. Our selling real estate agent clucked sadly when I told him my zip code. 
My home value has dropped over fifty percent and suddenly my once big nest egg – the family farm –  is fried. Foolishly, I thought I could take out a small first mortgage on my home for additional money to buy another home. I was sure the loan was a cinch. I only asked for a third of the home’s sad new value, and I have a brokerage account with money in the bank. 

Enter Credit Score. The bankster loan sharks “randomly” pull one of the three available credit scores from TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax. My scores on the first two are “excellent.” But USAA Bank pulled Equifax where my one lifetime late payment on a checking-account-overdraft-protection-line-of credit popped up. Loan application denied. 

At this point I have talked to a number of loan underwriters, asking questions, learning. Here is what I didn’t know. If you apply for a loan and are denied, your credit score goes down. If you have any credit cards or credit accounts and your balance is fifty percent or more of the credit limit, your score goes down. It doesn’t matter if you always pay on time. Your credit score goes down.

My checking account has been with Bank of America since 1987, and BAC is the bank who reported the late payment on the overdraft-protection-line-of credit. So I called them and when I finally got to the right guy – a supervisor –  I asked, “Don’t you think it’s weird that Bank of America was bailed out for billions of dollars, that I have been a customer since 1987, and BAC is the only company with a report against my credit score?” He made no reply. 

When I explained that this one late payment had occurred in 2010 when I was diagnosed with lymphoma and was undergoing cancer treatment, he said he would talk to the BAC Credit Score Team. I asked if there was a number where I could talk to these people. He said, “No, they are strictly back office.” See me doing the raised palm thing and rolling one eye? 

The boys in the back office.

In the meantime, ask yourself what is in it for the banks to keep lowering credit scores. Where is the money? How about this? 

Banks and these credit score companies make money managing and reporting this information. Everyone gets one “free” credit report per year. But if you want the score, you have to pay for it. People have been conditioned by the media and ads on TV and radios shows --  paid for by the banksters --  to constantly worry and wonder about their credit score. Once the score  goes down, these poor people wonder and worry even more. So they pay for their credit score. If they want a second credit report in their desperate hope their report has improved, they pay for it. 

If your credit score is low, the banks often charge a higher rate on loans, too. See how the banksters make money?

I imagine young whiz kids sitting in bank offices thinking up ways to screw people. I can almost hear them, “Awesome, man! Credit scores. Brilliant idea. We can take even more of their money! The will never see it coming.”

UPDATE, MARCH 21, 2012

Got a call from Bank of America this morning. They received the letter from my oncologist, and removed the BAC late payment report that was wrecking my credit score. Yay!!