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by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
Penguin, July 2010
416 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 0141048735

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ned Talbot is a bookmaker. He took over the family business from his grandfather and spends his time trying to live up to the slogan 'You can trust Teddy Talbot'. On the first day of Royal Ascot his life gets thrown into confusion by the arrival of a man who claims to be his father the father who he'd always believed had died in a car crash along with Ned's mother when he was only a baby. By the end of the day, the man he has only barely begun to get to know has been stabbed to death in a car park and Ned himself has been attacked by someone intent on warning him off. The only problem is that Ned has no idea what he's being warned about or why.

After this, the book rapidly becomes even more complex as Ned searches the contents of a rucksack his father had and finds a large quantity of cash and an unknown device. His attempts to discover what is going on lead to even more threats. The book is laden with detail about the ways bookmakers and the betting system work and the conflict between the small, independent bookies and the large corporate outfits. To be quite honest, I found these parts of the book the most entertaining. For the rest, the plot managed to be both convoluted and rather dull and the characters were far more leaden than I've come to expect from a Dick Francis novel, even those written by the collaboration of father and son. The parts that involved Ned's sick wife and his tortuous family background failed to inspire me at all, and I spent a large proportion of the book mentally railing at his for putting both himself and his wife at risk out of what seemed to be little more than pointless bloody-mindedness.

The pace and verve that characterizes so many of the previous books was sadly absent and, as a main character, Ned Talbot seemed to lack much in the way of a distinctive personality. To make matters worse, the denouement, when it finally came, was very much of the blink and you've missed it variety. I wouldn't rate this any more highly than a serviceable read, with characters ranging from dull to no more than average.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, November 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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