Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Book Review: Three for the road...

Well, almost. I really intended to have three for you this week, but it's turned out to be two and 1/2. This week has been mystery week, among other things, because I needed some escapism - but more on that another post.

I don't know about you all, but I'm a Dick Francis fan. Oh sure, there've been a few of his that I've not been really thrilled with. (Field of Thirteen was sort of a run-of-the-mill IMHO....) But on the whole, he's the probalby the gold standard when it comes to writing horse (racing) mysteries.

Unfortunately, he's not going to be around forever, and besides, I think I've read (and re-read) them all at least a time or two apiece: time to explore some alternatives!

Now Laura Crum's Gail McCarthy series is getting plenty of play elsewhere, and although I really like her books, I've read all of those that are out so far, and while I'll probably read them again, I really wanted something new.

So I took advantage of a few LibraryThing recommendations and culled from the list a couple of titles to start out with. Here's what I came up with:

Stalking Horse by Bill Shoemaker
That's right, that Bill Shoemaker. The veteran jockey turned trainer evidently didn't have enough on his plate, so he's added author to his list of credentials. And you know what? I liked it. I'll admit, I was a bit skeptical, but there's talent there.

Plot? ex-jockey Colley Killebrew has made a successful go of it as a part owner of a thriving Las Vegas restaurant. He's even (mostly) over being accused of race-fixing seven years before. So when the race steward who pressed for his disbarment comes to him with a proposition, he's a bit intrigued, but not enough to take the job. It takes the offer of information on his then-girlfriend, the beautiful, scheming Francie Dorn to get his cooperation.

Now Colley's headed for New Orleans and an undercover operation - if he can block a racetrack scam aimed at taking control of the Magnolia Park track, he'll get what he wants... but to do so he'll have to survive a critical lack of information, a devious ex, the mob, and a little-bitty ol' hurricane. Should be simple, right?

Not bad for a first effort. A few weak moments, and the dialogue was maybe a touch stilted. But I'll definitely track down the subsequent installments to see what Colley gets up to next. Maybe not up to Dick Francis standards yet, but definitely promising.
So that's your domestic, home-grown option. Now for something farther afield - and here's where the 1/2 comes in....

I also picked out a book by John Francome. He's French, an ex-National Hunt Champion jockey, according to his bio, and he has a whole pile of books out, so if I like his book there'll be plenty more to keep me busy.

Inside Track by John Francome
It's early goings yet, as I'm not quite through the first third of the book, but I can already tell Francome's a bit more graphic than either Francis or Shoemaker. Not necessarily more violent, but the perspective in his books shifts between characters, rather than keeping to the steady hero's perspective that both the other two maintain.

Plot? A young, promising jockey takes up with the wrong woman, gets drunk, drives, and kills someone. After a stint in prison, he's back at the track and not sure of his future. Meanwhile, an unidentified someone is reclaiming pots of ill-gotten cash with a bit of murder and arson to cover up the evidence.

The jockey's sister is a horse trainer - slightly struggling - and her father-in-law is, as well, but more established. Question is, are his horses a bit too good at times?

There are quite a few plot threads, and I suspect that the good guys and the bad guys may blur a bit, but that remains to be seen. For now, it's keeping me riveted, even on the exercise machine.
In fairness, I hadn't read a Dick Francis in quite a while. To make sure of a good comparison, I also picked up one of Francis' more recent books.

Under Orders by Dick Francis
Featuring Sid Halley, the one-handed ex-jockey turned investigator (previous outings in Whip Hand, Odds Against, etc.), this was a slightly more loggy Francis than I remembered. A race-fixing scheme and a couple of murders, along with an attack on Halley's new girlfriend liven things up, but lengthy segments on internet gambling weren't all that fun to sweat through. (Yes, this was elliptical fodder, as well-lol!)

I almost had the feeling that a few of the passages had been used previously.... I will, of course, have to read back through a few others to find out if it's only writing style that jogged my memory, or if there is a bit of self-cribbing going on.
If I had to make a choice between the three? I'd still grab Francis, but I'd make it one of the older titles - Bonecrack, Straight or Proof, or even the earlier ones featuring Sid Halley. His later stuff just feels a tiny bit stale....

So there you have it. 2 1/2 mystery reviews to end your week with.


Mrs Mom said...

Oh Gosh! I loved the Bill Shoemaker book years ago when I read it. (I got it when it first came out...) Loaned it to a "friend" and never got it back... hmmm...

I feel the same way about Francis books- I love them, and LOVE Sid Halley, but... well, once you have read one, you have read them all more or less. But it did not stop me from reading them time and again.

I have yet to read any of John Francome's work, or Laura Crum's... Must rectify that somehow!

Have a wonderful weekend! Oh- hehe- I'll do my level best to catch my blog up today, and get to Bucking Off as well! ;)

SunnySD said...

I can't believe I hadn't taken the time to read Shoemaker's stuff before this.

I'm looking forward to a trip to the used book store and some stocking up - T will be so thrilled - not! But I re-read them, too, so I think of it as an investment in future entertainment, lol!

Mrs Mom said...

LOL I have to go and look too. I don't even have a clue if Mr. Shoemaker has anything else out! (I've been trying to squeeze in *gasp* a non-horse book now and again, and have gotten myself totally hooked on Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books.... Not a horse in sight there! Bad Mrs Mom- bad bad!)

SunnySD said...

Oh! I love Stephanie Plum! And there's a horse in Plum Lucky :)

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Shoemaker would take up writing. I imagine that he saw a lot of story-worthy incidents at the level of his competition. Thanks for the investigative book find.