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Book Review

cover Even Money
by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
G.P. Putnam's Sons, August 25, 2009, 368 pages hardcover

In their latest book, Even Money, retired steeplechase jockey and long time mystery writer Dick Francis and his son Felix, a physics teacher by profession and an international-class marksman, tell the story of Ned Talbot, a small-time bookmaker who plies his trade at Royal Ascot as well as at smaller tracks in the south of England.

Bookmakers are a familiar sight at racecourses in England, Ireland, and Australia, and are both loved and loathed by the racing public. They provide a useful service, a way for fans to place a bet on a horse on a fixed odds basis, but to the outsider they appear to easily profit from hapless gamblers like a well-oiled machine. However, in contrast to the tote (pari-mutuel system), their profits are not consistent nor guaranteed, and they are in fact gambling by booking bets at odds they set and hope are correct and often take a loss when favorites win.

Raised by his grandparents, Ned inherits his grandfather Teddy's bookmaking business including choice locations at the major racecourses, where he erects his portable setup, complete with "Trust Teddy Talbot" sign and digital odds board, on race days. His young, technically minded assistant Luca Mandini runs the computers and places bets with other bookies to help spread the risk.

In typical Francis fashion, things are never quite what they seem. The daily grind of the bookie's life is quickly upset when a man who claims to be his father meets him in the parking lot at Ascot and then is murdered by two thugs. Suddenly Ned finds himself with more questions than answers. Was that really his father, where was he all this time, and why did he come back now? What are all these strange objects in his father's rucksack and, more importantly, who killed him and for what motive? Ned has to find answers to these questions and more, while at the same time running his bookmaking business, avoiding the police who consider him a suspect, and visiting his wife Sophie in hospital.

Fans of the highly successful Dick Francis "formula" will be in their element here. In order to solve the mysteries, Ned travels all over England as well as to Ireland and Australia, meets up with underworld characters and family members, plus dealing with physical violence, race fixing, and illegal betting strategies. Modern technology plays a greater role in this book than in previous Francis works and the writers made sure to include detailed explanation of the technologies used in order to help everyone understand it. The character of Luca plays this role perfectly as the "techie" assistant, and at times you get the impression that the Ned and Luca "team" mirrors the father and son team that worked together on this project. As well, the book includes a bookmaker's odds chart in an appendix to assist those unfamiliar with the traditional British odds scale, which differs slightly from the American scale.

Even Money has a cover price of $26.95 and can be ordered Amazon.com for $17.79.

Rating:     4/5

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