Lynda Sasscer Hill has been named winner of the 12th Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for her mystery novel Flamingo Road. The announcement was made during an April 19 evening reception at the Ryan family's Castleton Lyons, near Lexington.
The author, a former amateur steeplechase jockey who writes under the name Sasscer Hill, bred, owned, and trained Thoroughbreds in Maryland for more than 30 years. She traces her own ancestry back two and a half centuries to Maryland Governor Samuel Ogle, who in 1747 established Belair Stud, America's first great breeding and racing stable.
Since 2010, Sasscer Hill has been widely recognized for her spirited tales of mystery and suspense. She is also known for creating strong, complex female protagonists, beginning with jockey-turned-investigator Nikki Latrelle—heroine of Sasscer Hill's earlier novels.
The current winner is the first in a new limited series for Sasscer Hill, and introduces undercover Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau agent Fia McKee. In Flamingo Road, a thriller that touches upon such topics as equine slaughter and racetrack doping, McKee is called in to investigate after a beloved horse is stolen. The series' second volume, The Dark Side of Town, was scheduled for release this week.
Lead judge Kay Coyte, formerly of the Washington Post, referred to 2017 as "The Year of Fiction," as all five semi-finalists were imaginative works of mystery. She described Flamingo Road as "a can't-put-it-down book, with snappy dialogue and plenty of twists and turns. ... Sasscer Hill's evocative storytelling likely comes from her own racing background. But most impressive was her development of the book's unsavory characters, the crooks and charlatans, all of whom sparkle with sharp focus and the urgency of today's crime headlines. ... It had a great deal of heart and even some comic relief."
In addition to Coyte, the 2017 judges included award-winning journalist and on-air host at TVG Network, Caton Bredar; and last year's Book Award winner, Eliza McGraw.
Flamingo Road is the third work of fiction to win this award, following Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule in 2010, and Andy Plattner's Confessions of a Rust Belt Jockey in 2014. Sasscer Hill also becomes the third winning female author, following Gordon and McGraw (Here Comes Exterminator!).
Other 2017 finalists were: Pulse, by Felix Francis; and The Whole Sky, by Heather Henson. The former is a murder mystery in the tradition of the author's famous literary father, the late Dick Francis. The latter is the first work geared toward young adult readers to reach the finalist stage. Both authors will receive checks for $1,000, and all three will be awarded Tipperary Irish crystal trophies in the form of Castleton Lyons' iconic medieval-style tower.
The Dr. Tony Ryan Book award was established in 2006 by the late Dr. Ryan, a globally known businessman, sportsman, and philanthropist who wished to honor his twin passions of horse racing and literature. His intent was to annually recognize the best book-length work of any genre, with a Thoroughbred racing backdrop. The $10,000 winner's check is equal to that given for the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for Literature (prior to 2018). Since Dr. Ryan's passing a decade ago, the competition has been continued by his son Shane.
Each year the winner's reception is held in the historic stallion barn at Castleton Lyons—once home to 19th century champion Domino, and presently to triple Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti and Grade 1-winning Justin Phillip , both emerging young sires.