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by Dick Francis
Michael Joseph, September 2006
352 pages
ISBN: 0718149971

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

He's back, he's back! Six years after his last book, Dick Francis is back in the saddle and not a moment too soon.

Now, no one can ever pretend that Francis's books are great literature. But they're damn good tales, rattling along at a fair old rate. And yes, of course you know what you're going to get before you open the pages -- but who cares? A guilty pleasure is a guilty pleasure, and a good storyteller will always stay the course, even when the going is soft . . .

I have to admit I was very nervous as I opened UNDER ORDERS. What if it wasn't up to scratch? The first few chapters are a wee bit bumpy (too much chat, in fact), despite Francis diving straight in with three deaths on Cheltenham Gold Cup day, but then it becomes an armchair ride.

Sid Halley was always Francis's best and most memorable creation -- come on, be honest, how many of his other heroes could you name? The stiff upper-lip decent chaps all tended to merge into one after a while. Indestructible Sid, the hero of three previous books, now has an Achilles Heel to go with his prosthetic arm, so to speak. Yes, the boy's in lurve.

Meanwhile, there's plenty to occupy him professionally. He's built up a reputation as a dogged private investigator. And this time out he has the murder of a jockey, a trainer's suspicious death and possible race fixing to keep him gainfully employed.

You could always guarantee that, thanks to wife Mary, Francis's books would be among the best-researched on the market. Following her death, it looks like son Felix has taken over that role. In the course of the action we get quick lessons on DNA and online gambling. The latter is kind of a sub-plot which doesn't quite take off and feels a bit too grafted on.

UNDER ORDERS is what Francis does best -- one of his most memorable characters back in the world of racing, and surrounded by some familiar faces. Sid's father-in-law, retired Rear Admiral Charles Rowland, is of course there as a reliable rock in times of trouble. And Sid gets to re-examine his tricky relationship with ex-wife Jenny.

It's as if Francis had never been away. UNDER ORDERS is the master storyteller back in winning form. Welcome back!

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, September 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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