UNDER ORDERS (Suspense, UK, Cont) – VG+ Francis,
Dick – 4th Sid Halley
Michael Joseph/Penguin, 2006 – Hardcover

Former steeplechase jockey, now investigator, Sid Halley, has his one real and one artificial hand’s full. While attending a steeplechase race, Lord Enstone asks that Sid investigate whether his horses’ trainer is deliberately influencing how they run. The trainers’ jockey, who had been trying to reach Sid, is found dead after having been shot three times. When, days later, the trainer is found dead, everyone is ready to write it off as suicide over guilt of being caught out—everyone bud Sid.

This is classic and masterful Dick Francis with his excellent opening hooks. Now, ten years after the previous Halley book, Francis has allowed his recurring characters to age and mature in a realistic way; Sid has a stable relationship, his ex-wife is less bitter and his former father-in-law is getting older. You are given enough of Sid’s background to understand his vulnerabilities and what motivates him, and Francis has given him a girl friend of his equal. However, Francis doesn’t assume you’ve read the previous books and so provides enough background so this book could be read as a standalone. The new characters are also fully developed. I always learn things when I read Francis’ books. In this case, about prosthetics, on-line gambling, British police procedure, DNA, and other things, but never in a preachy way or one that takes me out of the story. Because Francis’ plots are so interesting, one almost loses how well he creates sense of place and dialogue. At one point, when I feared he was falling into a clichéd style, he character stated he wasn’t going to do the clichéd action. Even when he had a clue that, I thought, was fairly obvious, he added a nice twist to it that I hadn’t expected. While this book may not have been a continually gripping as some of Francis’ previous, it had enough suspense to keep me continually turning the pages and one the sofa from page one to the very end—and I loved the end-- without stopping. I highly recommend this book, and am delighted Mr. Francis’ is back. Long may he write!!

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