Not quite Dick Francis, though this horsy English debut clears its fences neatly.
Discredited—in effect blacklisted—after a costly, headline-grabbing spill (not his fault), American show-jumping rider Ross Wakelin goes on an all-out bender. Just one, but he’s uncomfortably aware that it could have been prelude to a destructive series if not for the timely intervention of loyal Lindsay Cresswell. She’s just a friend, Ross keeps telling himself, since it’s understood between the two that her heart is irrevocably committed elsewhere. Romance aside, however, Lindsay represents redemption, presenting Ross with an unexpected and most welcome job offer, one that takes him to England and the chance at a longed-for fresh start. Lindsay’s uncle, Colonel John Preston, owns Oakley Manor in Wiltshire, a small show-jumping yard suddenly in the market for an experienced rider. Despite initial misgivings, the colonel allows himself to be persuaded by his niece’s special pleading, and Ross is hired. He likes the colonel and loves the horses, but there are minuses that become oppressively apparent. To begin with, there’s Leo Jackson, the sullen, snarly groom whose disenchantment with Ross is as instant as it is inexplicable. Even more unsettling is the feeling Ross can’t shake that Leo is merely the vanguard of other baleful forces aimed at Oakley Manor. And he’s right. Blackmail, character assassination, threats, treachery, and attempted murder soon serve to darken his life, as if the competitiveness, the physical and emotional wear and tear, the unavoidable ups and downs of professional show-jumping weren’t tribulation enough. Still, to balance the evil that’s inherent in the loathsome Leo, there’s lovely Lindsay, whose irrevocable commitment, it turns out, may have been overstated.
First-novel shakiness is plainly evident, but a sustaining amiability pervades all, and the horse stuff is wonderful.