A superbly crafted collection of thirteen tightly plotted tales that treats readers to murder, mystery, and mayhem in the world of horseracing.
Though nearly two score of his novels have come to print, Francis has published only eight short stories in his 41 years as a bestselling author. That octet, composed mostly in the 1970s and initially appearing in various journals (Sports Illustrated, the Times of London, etc.), is reprinted here, along with five new tales, each introduced in brief by Francis. There's not a slacker among them, though few champions either. The earliest yarn, "Carrot for a Chestnut," dating from 1970 (eight years after Francis's first novel), is typical, presenting a morally ordered universe in which malefactors get their due, albeit commonly through indirect means. Here, a jockey who bends a race by feeding a horse a drugged carrot receives his comeuppance by losing his concentration as a result of his crime and getting involved in a nasty accident; as in most of the stories, there's a light twist to the ending. Horse racing figures in every entry, of course. Sometimes it's the focus of a crime?as in "Blind Chance," in which a blind boy picks up on how bettors are getting inside info on races with photo finishes. Sometimes, it's only background, as in "Collision Course," about how a fired newspaper editor hoists poetic justice upon a horrid restaurateur/horse trainer. Most of the stories are superficially clever, but below the quick plotting there's emotional depth; in "Spring Fever," for instance, Francis plumbs the innocent desperation of unrequited December-May love. And throughout there is Francis's voice, strong, smart, ironic, developed even at the beginning but maturing in timbre as he hones his skill. Even more than the horse racing, this voice is the tie that binds these 13 tales into a charmed entertainment.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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March 01, 2004
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