UNDER ORDERS - Dick Francis
Dick Francis has been a hugely successful author over a period of thirty years and has a devoted following. It has been many years since I read any of his novels which I used to enjoy. However, I found myself struggling with UNDER ORDERS. I’m not sure if my tastes have changed or if Mr Francis is not at the top of his game in this novel. There seemed to be a great deal of over-explaining which slowed the pace down. There was a lot of detail about the racing industry and online betting; more than I felt I needed to know. Nor was it really necessary to know the detailed back-story of nearly every major character who appeared in the book.. There was also much made of the fact that Sid has an artificial arm. We were told the history of how he lost his arm and his battle to come to terms with it. As this is the sixth in the Sid Halley series, I’m sure regular readers knew all this before and for a first time reader, it wasn’t all necessary. I had fond memories of earlier Dick Francis novels but sadly, UNDER ORDERS didn’t live up to those memories.
Sid Halley, is a former jockey, forced to retire when he lost his arm after a race fall. He now earns his living as a Private Investigator. Sid is at the Cheltenham Gold Cup day races when there are three deaths. Two are explainable; a horse injured in a fall and a winning owner dying of a heart attack after his horse finished first. The third, however is much more sinister. After riding his mount to a victory, jockey Huw Walters has an altercation with the trainer in the mounting yard after the race. He is later found shot dead near the horse box. The trainer is the prime suspect. He does have a reputation for not being entirely reputable and he has recently discovered that his wife has been having an affair with Huw. Sid finds himself more involved than he’d like when he is hired to find out why the trainer’s horses don’t run to form. It’s part of a wider government enquiry into online betting websites. The jockey’s father also wants to know who murdered his son.
Sid is a determined character. He doesn’t let a little thing like only having one arm get in the way. He is not also easily intimidated, When his fiancée Marina is threatened and seriously hurt, even Sid begins to have second thoughts.