DEATH'S PALE HORSE by James Sherburne


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A Novel of Murder in Saratoga in the 1880s""--and so it is; at least three murders, in fact, first a notorious con-man (found naked in a hotel dumbwaiter), then a shady racetrack tout, then an unpleasant journalist. A pleasant journalist, however, Paddy Moretti from a Manhattan sports weekly, is our narrator throughout--and he himself finds one of the bodies as he scampers about, hungry for a story that'll satisfy his firebreathing editor, during the week leading up to the big, much-bet-upon race between Tenstrike and The Mogul (ridden by Paddy's buddy, black jockey Isaac Murphy). Paddy also is being chased and roughed up by assorted thugs (he can't quite fathom why) and hounded by the local police (who are furious at him for accidentally leaking the scandalous murder news to his paper in N.Y.). The final complication: a lovely girl whom Paddy is trying to romance; she's a hired companion to an old lady (supposedly a medium) who's had a small fortune in bonds stolen from her. Sounds charming? Well, some of it is, but it moves awfully slowly, with talky recaps of the action at every opportunity. And the various solutions--a different one for each murder--unravel rather inelegantly after the Big Race; one of the twists is a classic winner, but the others are drab. Still, Sherburne does a graceful, understated job with the swirling Saratoga atmosphere (breakfast at the track, eateries high and low), and those readers who don't mind their mysteries loose and leisurely will find this a fairly smooth diversion.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1980
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin