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Book Review

Blind Switch
by John McEvoy
Poison Pen Press, 278 pages hardcover, August 2004

The racing world is full of powerful yet mysterious characters, and followers of the sport have historically questioned their possible links to organized crime and the underworld. In his first work of fiction, former Daily Racing Form correspondent John McEvoy pieces together a story of how a former amateur boxer named Jack Doyle gets caught up in a race-fixing incident and then suddenly finds himself as an informant against much more heinous crimes against horses and the betting public.

McEvoy loosely builds his story upon factual events, such as horses being killed for insurance values, Cajun jockeys starting their careers at the bush tracks of Louisiana, and the Chicago Cubs losing in the 2003 baseball playoffs, extending their World Series drought for yet another year. Through fictitious names, he even includes the short-lived Racing Times which attempted to compete against the Daily Racing Form. Through the grumblings of Doyle and his underworld sidekick Moe Kellman, McEvoy's Chicago background shows through, especially where Kellman rants about the Cubs, perpetual losers who still pack the stands at Wrigley Field for every game.

As the story begins, Doyle strikes a deal with the FBI to avoid prosecution for the fixed race and, as if he were a lightweight stepping into the ring against a heavyweight, has to infiltrate the stables of the billionaire media mogul Harvey Rexroth while avoiding Rexroth's team of yes-men whose eyes are everywhere. Rexroth and his partner in crime, banned jockey Ron Mortvedt, are portrayed as dangerous lunatics who have flouted the law for so long they feel invincible. The FBI had long suspected their involvement in horse killings and race fixing but was never able to build a solid enough case, and felt Doyle was their ticket to a successful prosecution. Doyle gets hired on a stable hand on Rexroth's Kentucky farm along with a fellow informant, New Zealander Aldous Bolger, where he learns in a big hurry how to take care of horses. When Bolger is beaten almost to death while he was in "the wrong place at the wrong time" one night, suddenly Doyle finds himself alone to complete the stakeout assignment.

For comic relief, McEvoy added a parallel story, one of Red Marchik, a long-time employee of Rexroth who was forced into early retirement. During the course of the book, Marchik makes several attempts at revenge against Rexroth, failing each and every time, while his wife quietly goes along with his plans rather than try to stop him. How the two plots - Doyle vs. Rexroth and Marchik vs. Rexroth - finally collide at the conclusion of the book was very entertaining and imaginative indeed. Although the ending was not entirely unpredictable, how the various characters throughout the book connected was. Other than Doyle and Rexroth, it is never entirely clear until the end where mysterious characters such as Moe Kellman, E.D. Morley, and Maureen Hoban fit into the grand scheme.

In his fiction-writing debut, John McEvoy uses his years of experience as a turf writer to piece together a mystery any racing fan will enjoy. Any mystery writer delving into the world of Thoroughbred racing will always be compared to Dick Francis and John Francome, and readers of racing mysteries will agree that McEvoy belongs in this very select club.

Blind Switch has a list price of $24.95 but can be purchased from, for $16.97.

Rating:     4.5/5

Other books by John McEvoy:

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