Adventure In Reading - Dick Francis & Felix Francis - Even Money
The Authors and This Book
Dick Francis was born in 1920. His father was a jockey and stable manager and Dick left school at 15 with the intention of becoming a jockey and a trainer. He married in 1947 and they had two sons - Merrick and Felix. He wrote 45 books. He and his wife moved to Florida in the 1980s and in 1992 they moved to the Cayman Islands.
Felix Francis is the younger of the two sons and was born in 1953. He studied Physics and Electronics at London University. He then spent 17 years in a career in education when he left the field to manage his father's affairs. Since about 1970 he assisted his father with research and began helping with the writing of the books. They were working on their fourth book when Dick died in 2010. The first book written by Felix after his father's death was still published as a "Dick Francis Novel" written by Felix Francis.
This book is the third one where they collaborated. It was published in 2009. It is about 350 pages in length.
This story is about a bookmaker at the horse races in England. He is in a highly competitive business that is loosely regulated and dependent upon the wits of the proprietor for success. His business is done strictly at the race track. He is married and his wife is in a hospital for the mentally ill. She has made progress in the hospital but in the past upon release into the community has relapsed and been hospitalized again. His paternal grandfather is dead and his paternal grandmother is in a senior living facility.
At the beginning of the book, the hero's - Ned Talbot - life begins to become complicated by the appearance of an Australian man claiming to be his long ago disappeared father. The stranger from Australia tells Ned he has two sisters in Australia but he is killed at the start without revealing much information. A villain enters the story looking for a stash of money that the "father from Australia" is supposed to have. A second searcher and then a third enter the book, each looking for specific items they expected Ned's father to have possessed.
Ned decides to handle matters on his own after a less than satisfactory encounter with the local police. His life becomes more and more perilous and the hunt for the "money" and the other "items" cause danger.
The resolving of the various problems are accomplished with surprises and twists that lead on to compare this novel to other Francis's outings.
At the time of this book, English bookmaking and horse race betting was different than in the United States. The odds that a bettor obtained as quoted by the bookmaker and a bet slip was prepared that shows the bet and the payoff based on those odds. The knowledge and experience of the bookmaker contribute to the odds quoted by the individual bookmakers. They also influence their quoted odds by the amount of betting that has been done (much the same as sports betting in the United States).
Off track betting was often influenced by the average of the quotes by the bookmakers at the track. This lent itself to manipulating of the odds by trying to control the amounts bets on horses at the track. For instance, heavy betting on a horse with high odds would cause the track bookmakers to adjust their odds downward on that horse. When doing that, the odds on the other horses in the race would rise. Enough judicious betting of that type could cause the race track odds on the clear cut favorite in the race to rise not only at the track but in the off track race books. Heavy betting on the favorite at the race books would be done at odds that had been manipulated at the track to be artificially high.
When odds at the track have caused the off track racebooks to be uncomfortable with the posted odds they then do the same thing in reverse, sending bets to the track on the favorite to force those odds down and relieve the betting pressure at the racebook.
This concept is repeatedly used through the book to create tension for the on track bookmakers. Enforcers with steel toed shoes try to impress upon Ned that such activity will be dealt with severely even though Ned is at that point innocent of such activity.
Ned uncovers a fraudulent scheme that allows a horse with sterling capability to be substituted for a badly performing one, creating long odds on a reasonably clear cut favorite. Ned uses the knowledge to find a betting opportunity. Then he uses the ability to manipulate the payoff odds at the offtrack betting parlors to create a windfall bet which he is able to use to his financial advantage.
The local police still are not actively pursuing an investigation into the chicanery surrounding the death of Ned's newly discovered father. To further complicate the plot, it begins to appear that this stranger really is his father but to Ned's dismay disappeared years before shortly after he murdered his wife, Ned's mother. Ned's elderly grandmother in a lucid moment clarifies Ned's early life and his parentage and the murder with crushing knowledge.
When is appears it can only get worse, problems begin to be resolved and in the final pages of the book, reasonable solutions appear.
The book is on the periphery of horse racing more than many of the Francis' books. However, it lacks some of the crispness in writing that I had come to expect when reading a Dick Francis novel. A good story but not quite as satisfying at many of the other books.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd rate it about a 6.