Francis fils brings back his father’s favorite hero for a jaundiced look into a rash of rigged steeplechases.
Retired by a crippling injury from his first career as a jockey and retired by fears for his family and his peace of mind from his second as a private eye, Sid Halley just wants to be left alone with his biologist wife, Marina, and their daughter, Saskia, 6. But trouble keeps finding him. First, Sir Richard Stewart, chair of the British Horseracing Authority, urges him to look into a string of nine races he’s convinced were fixed; then a mysterious caller with a Belfast accent demands that he sign a report saying that he’s conducted an investigation and found nothing to Sir Richard’s charges. Readers who know Sid (Under Orders, 2006, etc.) won’t be surprised to hear that the prickly, one-handed investigator refuses both commissions. But he has to think twice about the first request when Sir Richard dies the day after his visit in a staged suicide that would fool no one but the police and about the second more peremptory command when Saskia is taken from school and Sid’s two guard dogs are captured and released on the M6, 80 miles from home. Sid’s tormentor, soon identified as murderous ex-commando Billy McCusker, is obviously implacable, and whether or not Sid puts his name to the whitewash and sends it to BHA security chief Peter Medicos, it’s obvious that he’ll have no peace of mind until he’s dealt decisively with McCusker. Although the jockeys McCusker has intimidated into throwing their races offer little help, Sid burns to go mano a mano with his nemesis, and once he reunites with his ex-colleague Chico Barnes, readers know it’s just a matter of time.
Not as original as Dick Francis’s Bloodline (2012) but still a fast-paced, highly professional evening’s entertainment. With all due respect, hasn’t Francis earned the right to have his famous father’s name removed from the franchise?