(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The title Come to Grief sums up what happens throughout the book, as disease, injury, and negative publicity bring humans and animals to grief. The dominant grief is perpetrated by a serial mutilator, who chops off the forefeet of valuable thoroughbred horses, much beloved of owners but uninsured, and that of the pony of an impressionable child. The novel brings back champion jockey turned private investigator Sid Halley, who appeared in Odds Against (1965) and Whip Hand (1979), and who sees in these injuries a mirror image of his own physical loss of a forearm, hacked off by a sadistic fiend. The nightmare he faces—the loss of his good hand—proves a near reality when his longtime friend, Ellis Quint, in the grip of his criminal obsession, sadistically assaults Halley with the weapon he had used on defenseless horses.

Quint has won British hearts with his fearless rides as a jockey and with the heartwarming stories he creates as a television host (including a particularly moving piece on a child with leukemia, whose pony is one of the victims), yet his deeds bring his disbelieving family to grief. Quint’s father mutilates a horse to provide his son an alibi and then tries to kill Halley; his mother commits suicide. The gentlemanly, kindly facade Quint projects hides a lust for power and for blood, but while Halley struggles to expose Quint’s dark side, he must deal with character assassination by a local newspaper,...

(The entire section is 510 words.)