Ehrman’s second horse whodunit isn’t an outright winner, but it finishes in the money.
Steve Cline, still hurting from a beating suffered in his debut (At Risk, 2000), copes with blows of a different sort at the outset of the sequel. Almost as he steps out of the hospital, the young barn manager of Maryland’s Foxdale Farms learns that his father—long unloving, yet deeply lamented—has been killed in an auto smashup. Uh, make that putative father, since Steve’s hateful brother drunkenly informs him that he’s a bastard as the family gathers after the funeral. Gratuitous and mean-spirited as the information is, it’s true, and it sets off a dramatic chain of events. Link one: Steve confronts the owner of Kessler Racing Stables, conveying news as startling to Christopher Kessler as it was to Steve. Link two: for reasons not entirely plausible, Steve decides it’s a good idea to go undercover to catch the no-good who’s been doping the Kessler racing stock. Link three: ensuing multiple murders, plus several of those obligatory beatings out of Dick Francis. Gritty Steve, bloody but unbowed, outclasses a bevy of inept cops, solves his case, and gains, at last, a dad who appreciates his sterling qualities.
Ehrman, clearly an entry in the Dick Francis American Style Stakes, is hampered here by shaky plotting and colorless prose. Still, his exceedingly likable hero gives him a shot.