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Book Review

Dead Heat
By William Murray
Eclipse Press, September 2005, 288 pages hardcover

Author William Murray has often been referred to as America's Dick Francis and is perhaps best known for his series of Shifty Lou Anderson mysteries. With his years of exposure to the racetrack and its unique culture, the popular novelist, journalist, and playwright has written numerous books, both fiction and nonfiction, about his favorite sport. Murray passed away in March of this year at the age of 78, and Dead Heat is the final work in his illustrious writing career.

Dead Heat takes place at Santa Anita Park in California during its winter and spring meeting. Trainer Jack Fontana and long-time buddy, jockey agent Sal "Bones" Righetti go about their usual day-to-day business when they are met by a mysterious newcomer, a young jockey named Jill Aspen. She claims to have come from Northern California looking for work but gives no further details of her past. The sceptical Fontana hires her to work with his horses, eventually allowing her to ride stable star Tumultuous. Of course, Aspen's past comes back to haunt her as she goes AWOL multiple times, which frustrates Fontana who takes her off of some of his better horses in favor of top riders on the circuit. Bothered by this turn of events, Righetti, a former mob enforcer from New Jersey who went out to California to make a new start, takes it upon himself to help her escape her demons, by doing some "enforcing" of his own.

Murray draws an accurate and colorful picture of backstretch life. He artfully incorporates the interesting and stereotypical characters that you expect to see at the track, such as the compulsive gamblers always looking for inside information, big-name trainers with even bigger egos, hot walkers and exercise riders, and of course, eccentric owners with more money than sense. These make for useful comedy relief as the mystery of Jill Aspen slowly unravels to a surprise conclusion.

Fans of racing mystery novels will definitely enjoy Dead Heat, and may want to go on and read some of Murray's older mysteries. Racing fans in general will gain a better understanding of life on the backstretch, a side of the business they rarely get to experience.

Dead Heat has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Exclusively Equine for $15.95 or for $16.47. An excerpt is also available online from Exclusively Equine.

Rating:     5/5

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A few other William Murray books:
A Fine Italian Hand
Now You See Her, Now You Don't
I'm Getting Killed Right Here
The King of the Nightcap
The Wrong Horse: An Odyssey Through the American Racing Scene

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