Forfeit, published six years after Dead Cert, represents a leap forward in Francis’s craft, with more emphasis on characterization and less on action for action’s sake. Largely because of its greater realism and stronger characterization, Forfeit won the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award, bringing his work to the attention of a wider American audience.
The plot is based on the system of wagering in England before the introduction of pari-mutuels. Bookies would set the odds on each horse based on the number of bets they were taking in. If a horse were scratched before the race, the bets would be forfeited to the bookie, hence the title.
In Forfeit, a gambler who owns a string of betting parlors exploits this archaic system by making sure that heavy favorites fail to appear or at least fail to win. This unknown kingpin enhances his profits by bribing turf journalists to praise certain horses so enthusiastically that bettors heavily back them, only to later forfeit their wagers. Through bribery or intimidation of jockeys, trainers, and owners, the gambling czar makes sure that certain horses do not win.
Hero James Tyrone, a former jockey who is now a journalist, like Francis himself, becomes suspicious when an alcoholic colleague warns him against selling his integrity as a writer and dies shortly thereafter under mysterious circumstances.
Tyrone’s wife Elizabeth is incapacitated...
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