Local author releases mystery book set in a fictional town loosely based on Rancho Santa Fe


By Kristina Houck

Susan Union grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Now, the realtor-turned-writer has released her very own mystery.

Set on a horse ranch in a wealthy enclave of San Diego County, “Rode to Death” is the first book of the Randi Sterling mystery series.

The 265-page book follows equine journalist Randi Sterling, who moves to her college flame’s ranch in San Diego’s wealthy Rancho del Zorro. At the ranch, Sterling not only discovers he is already married, but she stumbles upon his dead bride in a champion stallion’s stall.

The setting is loosely based on Rancho Santa Fe.

“While showing my horse, I would see all the glitz and glamour and envy and greed running below the surface of these horse shows,” said Union, who lived in Rancho Santa Fe for 10 years. “I thought it would be a really good premise for a mystery.”

Union grew up on a horse ranch near Boulder, Colo., where she rode thoroughbred hunter-jumpers and competed in the Mountain States Circuit. At 9 years old, she got her first pony, Tilly, for Christmas.

Although she had a passion for writing and horses, her parents encouraged her to study business. She earned a degree in finance from San Diego State University.

Following a career in real estate, Union pursued writing. She became a freelance journalist, writing features on riding, training and breeding horses for community newspapers and equine magazines.

In 1998, Union’s horse, Chickawa Rose, qualified for the American Quarter Horse Association World Show in Oklahoma City and earned a sixth place medal in the trail competition. While participating in and reporting on the show, Union was inspired to write a novel.

“I always wanted to write a novel, but it took a long time to really hone the craft because it’s really different from journalism,” she said. “But when I really get into the characters’ heads and the dialogue is flowing, it’s like they’re in the room with me or they’re speaking through me. It just flows. They are a part of me.”

Published by Köehler Books, “Rode to Death” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books and IndieBound.

“This book is for anybody who wants to fall in love with a page-turning mystery,” Union said.

For more information about Union and the Randi Sterling mystery series, visit