Christmas (Kit) Fielding, a British champion steeplechase rider, responds to an appeal from his twin sister Holly. For unknown reasons, someone is planting scurrilous gossip about her husband, who owns a training stable.
Anxious owners threaten to withdraw their horses, and Kit’s inquiries lead him into the storm center of a power play between a devious newspaper publisher and an unprincipled financier, who happens also to be Holly’s father-in-law.
The investigation is seasoned by royalty (a dispossessed, middle-aged European princess who owns a stable of jumpers), sex (the princess’ American niece, who supervises a television news unit), and violence (knife-wielding thugs).
In his twenty-fifth novel, Francis returns to horseracing to provide a protagonist and a plot. For variety’s sake, more recent efforts have forsaken the turf for other subjects: wine, international kidnaping, computer theft, and accounting. As always, the hero comes from an orphaned or rejecting family. He answers a cry of need or else finds himself plunged mysteriously into a treacherous maelstrom. He enjoys two requisite amorous beddings and suffers serious physical pain before his ultimate triumph.
Francis’ prose is deceptively simple. The vocabulary is low on syllables and strong on Anglo-Saxon roots; the syntax is terse. Like every good thriller author, Francis breaks his spurts of action into a tumbling sequence of visualized moments. The talent lends itself especially well to horseracing. A onetime champion jockey, Dick Francis knows his subject thoroughly.