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Book Review

Dark Horses
by John W. Russell
from Xlibris Corporation, 224 pages, hardcover and softcover

Following in the footsteps of racing mystery writers Dick Francis and John Francome, retired champion trainer and turf writer John W. Russell makes his fiction-writing debut in Dark Horses, a story inspired by actual events that have occurred in recent racing history. Race fixing, sponging and drugging horses, international terrorism and organized crime, and ringers all come into play in this complex plot.

The story centers around Fiona Kent, a young yet successful jockey in England who finds herself aboard a potential classic winner who happens to be owned by a very mysterious aristocrat named Adrian Harrington. Her relationship with Harrington puts her in such danger, cheating death several times and never understanding the reason for the violence, that she eventually flees to America. The troubles have just begun once she arrives on the backstretch of fictitious Gateway Park (which, from the geographical references used, was actually Belmont Park).

Russell's depiction of the racing world is quite accurate, from his years of experience in the sport both in England and America. For example, in the story as in reality, wagering in England is mostly done through bookmakers, while jockeys in England have to drive long distances all over the country with mounts booked at different courses on different days, and the top racing stables base their operations in Newmarket with horses working out over the gallops. In America almost all wagering is done through the tote (pari-mutuel) system and horses mostly work out at the track over the racing surfaces. His writing style works well for the story, making for a fast-paced adventure with just the right amount of detail. The book is a very quick read, with the various elements tying together as the book comes to a close, but like in any good mystery, how they all inter-relate is never obvious or clear until the very end.

Dark Horses is recommended to fans of racing mysteries, and racing fans who have never read racing mysteries and would like to get started on this very enjoyable genre of fiction. Fans of Francome and Francis will feel right at home reading John Russell. He has shown in his fiction debut that he is capable of producing quality work and we look forward to subsequent titles from this up and coming author.

Dark Horses has a list price of $21.99 and is available from Amazon.com in softcover or in hardcover for $31.99.

Rating:     4/5

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