Like Ned Talbot, the first-person narrator and bookie in Even Money by renowned father-and-son writing team Dick and Felix Francis, you can make book that a mystery novel associated with their names is guaranteed to provide readers with excellent entertainment and suspense for the money. Even Money is the first collaboration Iíve read by the duo, but Iím a big fan of Dick Francisís racing-oriented mysteries, and I was hoping that the style and gritty elegance of his solo novels would carry through to this novel. I was not disappointed. Iíd recommend this novel to anyone who is already a Dick Francis fan, and to readers who loves first-class mysteries and thrillers.
Nedís life is a complicated one, and heís experienced lots of trials and tribulations. The grandson of bookmaker Ted Talbot, he has followed in the family tradition. He and his assistant Luca Mandini and Lucaís girlfriend, Betsy, make a relatively decent living for themselves. Trouble is, most of the bettors donít really like him (or any bookmakers) because they feel they make too much money off of them. The large firms donít like the competition and try to undercut their odds and prices to lay bets. Ned and Lucaís plans to get one over on the big firms and make a tidy six hundred thousand pounds while theyíre at it are some of the best parts of the novel.
Nedís wife, Sophie, suffers periodic long-term bouts of manic depression, requiring her to be institutionalized for much of their marriage. Each time sheís been released, Ned hopes that theyíll be able to start up their lives again and plan for the future. Sadly, Sophieís periods of recovery have been all too short. Things like flushing her drugs down the toilet, thinking sheís feeling better, actually work the opposite way, sending her back to the institution that much quicker. The new drugs the doctors have prescribed, though, seem to regulate her bi-polar condition better than any have in the past and with fewer side effects. When she is released again, Ned hopes it will be for the last time.
Ned was raised by his grandparents, believing that his mother and father died in a car crash. One day, a man claiming to be his father walks into his life, is brutally attacked soon after in a parking lot following a race, stabbed in both of his lungs, and warns Ned as he lies dying: ďBe very careful. Of everyone.Ē Ned doesnít get a good look at the man who did it but describes him to the head of the police investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Llewellyn, as best he can. At first Ned thinks that robbery is the motive, but as he conducts his own investigation into his fatherís murder, he discovers that his father had ties with fixing races, insurance fraud, and maybe even in the murder of his wife and her daughter, who would have been Nedís sister. Under the name of Alan Grady, Nedís father also maintained another family and residence in Australia. The man who murdered him, whom Ned learns is named Kipper, and another man who claims to be working undercover and calls himself ďJohn Smith,Ē relentlessly try to recover a rucksack and its contents of microchips, thirty thousand pounds, and a microcoder that Nedís father left behind at a seedy hotel in Sussex Gardens. Ned has beaten them to it, and now theyíre after him to get what was in the rucksack.
I quite enjoyed the descriptions of the various races and courses mentioned in the novel. Iíve attended horse races in the U.S. at the Arlington Heights course and another in Hot Springs, Arkansas; the excitement of being at the courses carried over as I read the book. Dick and Felix Francis write with the expertise and assurance that comes from decades of going to the races and talking with jockeys, bookmakers, owners, and others associated with horse racing, and it shows in their novels. The method the authors lay out by which unscrupulous horse owners commit insurance fraud and fix races is fascinating.
Even Money is filled with twists and turns, and it really picks up when Sophie is released from the institution. Quite a few surprises in the tale right up to the end make the novel addictively suspenseful. Iíve read many - though not nearly all - of Dick Francisís novels., but Iíve never read any heís written with a bookmaker as the protagonist. I wondered before I began if he could keep the magic thatís worked so well for him going with a bookmaker as the main character and writing the novel with another person, even considering itís a family member who is likely very close to him. He wrote some novels with his late life, and while Iíve heard that these novels are pretty good, I hadnít read any of those. Iím glad I checked out Even Money.