Under Orders by Dick Francis
Reasons for reading: Author You've Never Read for the 4 Month Challenge
Description: "It’s the third death on Cheltenham Gold Cup Day that really troubles super-sleuth Sid Halley. Former champion jockey Halley knows the perils of racing all too well – but in his day, jockeys didn’t usually reach the finishing line with three .38 rounds in the chest. But this is precisely how he finds jockey Huw Walker – who, only a few hours earlier, had won the coveted Triumph Hurdle.
Just moments before the gruesome discovery, Halley had been called upon by Lord Enstone to make discreet enquiries into why his horses appeared to be on a permanent losing streak. Are races being fixed? Are bookies taking a cut? And if so, are trainers and jockeys playing a dangerous game with stakes far higher than they realise?
Halley’s quest for answers draws him ever deeper into the darker side of the race game, in a life-or-death power play that will push him to his very limits – both professionally and personally."First line: "Sadly, death at the races is not uncommon."
My thoughts: I know more about horse-racing than I should, since I've never been to a race. But my years of adoring Jilly Cooper's books about the horsey set left me with some weird bits of knowledge about race courses, horses, jockeys and Dick Francis. Because it seemed like there was always someone sitting in a stable or around a scrubbed pine table reading a Dick Francis novel. So when this book popped up in the library booksale, I thought I'd give him a try.
And it was a pretty good read - Sid was a really interesting character, able to parlay his former jockey status into a career as a PI. When his utter determination to get to the truth in the face of danger collides with his concern for the woman he loves, he has some soul-searching to do. I didn't realize this was the second book about Sid, and I appreciated that I hadn't had to read the first one. His former father-in-law Charles is a great secondary character - a former Navy man who loves his scotch and still cares a great deal for the man who was married to his daughter. Marina, Sid's love interest, is intelligent, gorgeous, and feisty.
But I guess the who of the whodunnit (rare for me) if not quite the why. And while Booklist's review included this - "And Francis once again proves himself a master of detail, seamlessly incorporating fascinating facts about DNA technology, myoelectric hands, Internet gambling, and even stitches," I actually found that a bit annoying - I didn't find it all that seamless, it took me out of the story. To me it was as if he'd done his research, by gum, and he was going to use it. The stuff about Sid's prosthetic limb came in handy (ha!) later, but I think people today know enough generally about DNA testing to not need an in-depth explanation about it.
The verdict: Not earth-shattering, but there was enough suspense to keep me reading and even a part that made me gasp. I might pick up an earlier Francis thriller - another review said that longtime fans might find the plot of Under Orders familiar, so I'd like to see what one of his unfamiliar plots is like.