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Even Money    by Dick Francis & Felix Francis order for
Even Money
by Dick Francis
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The highlight of every Christmas for my family used to be a new Dick Francis mystery - whoever gave or received the gift, we all read and enjoyed it. So I was delighted to see that Francis is still going strong, now with his son Felix as co-author (they also wrote Dead Heat and Silks together).

They picked an unusual career for their leads this time, making them universally despised bookmakers, 'Pariahs of the racing world.' Ned Talbot took over the family business (a small independent) from the grandfather who raised him after his parents' death in a car accident. At least this is what he has always believed. His (very much alive) father introduces himself at Royal Ascot (and reveals the existence of two half sisters for Ned), only to be murdered in front of his only son's eyes a few hours later. As he dies, Peter Talbot (aka Alan Grady, aka Willem van Buren) warns his son to 'be very careful ... Of everyone.'

Ned juggles business problems (his young assistant and Internet whiz kid Luca Mandini is fomenting trouble with 'the boys from the big outfits' and also wants a partnership) and visits with his manic depressive wife Sophie (who 'rode a roller-coaster life with great peaks of mania followed by deep troughs of despair') in her low-risk mental hospital, with this new puzzle tossed into his life. He learns that his father murdered his mother - or did he? But one thing is clear - Peter Talbot was embroiled in shady dealings, relating to an electronic gadget that Ned tracks down in the luggage he left in a seedy hotel, not to mention thirty thousand pounds in cash.

Ned avoids the police - the man in charge displays strong prejudice against bookmakers - and investigates on his own. At the same time his father's killer sniffs out his trail and threatens Sophie, who turns out to be more resilient than Ned would ever have expected. Uncovering racing fraud, he and Luca turn the tables on the perpetrators - they 'piggybacked on someone else's fiddle' by using their own technology against them. And along the way what Ned learns about his family background turns his world upside down.

Though I didn't connect with, or care about, the characters of Even Money as much as in many of Dick Francis's earlier novels, I enjoyed the intricate plot, the education on bookmaking, and the authors' clear compassion for those suffering mental health problems. The legion of racing mystery fans will not want to miss this new masterfully written thriller from Dick and Felix Francis.

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