Pleasing lesser Francis (To the Hilt, 1996, etc., etc.) that takes its young hero from horse racing to the far rougher world of British politics. Benedict Juliard may be just a boy--he's only 18 when his father arranges for him to be fired from his job as an amateur jockey so Ben can campaign at his side in a Parliamentary by- election--but his talent for listening to people and drawing them out is such a complement to George Juliard's mastery of big- picture rhetoric that he's an unexpected asset on the campaign trail. Unexpected and unwelcome, not only to Paul Bethune, the opposition candidate, and his hapless wife Isobel, but to Orinda Nagle, vitriolic widow of the late MP for Hoopwestern, who can't understand how the nominating committee for her own party could have made the ghastly mistake, darling, of passing her over for Dennis Nagle's vacant seat--and to Alderney Wyvern, once Dennis's close friend, now Orinda's constant, and rather sinister, companion. As George's campaign gathers steam, and Ben basks in the glow of his father's approval--best here is Francis's sharp portrait of instinctive sympathy between the very different father and son--predictable obstacles emerge. Usher Rudd, a muckraker who's been slinging mud against Paul Bethune, turns his attention to George; somebody tries to kill George; and you find yourself settling in happily to a treat of customary Francis thrills and spills. But the campaign turns out to be only Act One; George's victory and Ben's return to racing merely set the stage for anticlimactic Act Two, five years later, when Wyvern and Rudd come blustering back in search of the revenge they're sure they're owed. Though the toothless villains deprive the story of any strong sense of direction--a surprising disappointment from reliable Francis--the tale is fleetly and unassumingly told, without any of the excess baggage that has often given the distinguished ex-jockey trouble making weight.