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Under Orders    by Dick Francis order for
Under Orders
by Dick Francis
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Fans, rejoice! The cover announces 'The master is back', and Dick Francis returns in fine fettle with Under Orders, starring my favorite of his characters, the indomitable, one-handed Sid Halley.

At the Cheltenham Gold Cup, two men and one horse die - one due to natural causes, one an accidental death, and the third a shooting. The murder victim is Huw Walker, who had called Sid the night before, asking for help and sounding frightened. (Halley missed the call as he was visiting his friend and father-in-law, Rear Admiral Charles Rowland, who helped him greatly in earlier episodes.) Huw's distraught father, a Welsh farmer, asks Sid to find out who killed his son and why. He's also asked by Archie Kirk - a civil servant reporting to the Cabinet - to investigate the possibility of criminal involvement in gambling, especially on the Internet.

Divorced for ten years, Sid is now living with 'Dutch beauty' Marina van der Meer, a chemist working on cancer research. Sid has kept their relationship quiet, wanting to protect her from repercussions from his job. He soon discovers that he can't. After his friend - an ex-jockey and now a racehorse trainer - Bill Burton dies, and Halley proves that it was not a suicide as the police initially concluded, Marina is attacked and Sid agonizes over putting her at risk. But she's a tough lady, a fit companion for Sid Halley, and encourages him to keep digging. He does, leading to more danger, up close and personal, for both Sid and his new lady.

Of course, Sid solves the crime, with help from a surprising source - pain in the neck journalist Chris Beecher (gossip columnist and rumourmonger) who works for a newspaper that has it in for Halley. Along the way, ex-wife Jenny finally gets over her bitterness and becomes Sid's and Marina's friend. And he addresses Archie's concerns as well. I enjoy anything that Dick Francis writes, though some of his recent books have been disappointing, reading like they could have used a couple more rewrites. That is not the case with Under Orders, which is reminiscent of this bestselling author's excellent early works. Don't miss it!

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