4 stars out of 5
This is the latest entry into the life of British Horseracing Authority investigator Jeff Hinkley, and it brings him to the U.S. shores "on loan" to help the U.S. Federal Anti-Corruption in Sports Agency find a mole in its organization. Apparently, someone is leaking confidential information that's giving horse owners and/or trainers a heads-up on planned raids and drug tests.
As the title suggests, the investigation begins at the Kentucky Derby, where yet another bust goes bad; worse, a human is murdered. On Derby Day, the unthinkable happens as three of the four most favored horses mysteriously fall ill and are scratched from the race. With two more legs left in the Triple Crown - the Preakness in Maryland and the Belmont Stakes in New York - Hinkley decides to go undercover [rather thinly] disguised as a groom, getting a job at Belmont Park where he can keep an eye on what's happening from the perspective of an insider.
While there, he runs afoul of an exceptionally nasty groom who appears to be protecting his beautiful sister, who also works at the track, from nonexistent romantic advances from Hinkley (or perhaps there's another, more sinister reason for the attacks). Hinkley also runs into evidence confirming that the Derby horses didn't get sick by accident. But neither proving that nor uncovering the identity of the mole isn't a walk around the track; in fact, Hinkley finds himself in what could be the race of his own life. In short, it's an enjoyable and sometimes nail-biting romp through the ins and outs of the racing world.
As he works toward completion of his assignment in the United States, Hinkley begins to consider where his career will take him next and I, for one, rather hope it's not a permanent move to my side of the Pond. While I totally agree that everyone is entitled to his or her opinions, Hinkley's U.S.-bashing (as seen through the author's eyes, of course) really started to get on my nerves. Even so, I was able to overlook his anti-gun views, digs at the flaunting behavior of "rich" folks (especially at Triple Crown events) and the fact that we levy taxes on gambling/racing winnings whereas the U.K. does not. When he tasted grits for the first time, I actually chuckled when he proclaimed he'd rather chew on a rusty nail to get his quota of iron. I can even tolerate, though barely, his declaration that Americans are a "rum lot."
He crossed the line, though, when he declared that a U.S. TV show - a not-so-veiled reference to the long-running and extremely popular "Jeopardy!" - was so boring that it put him to sleep. Them are fightin' words, sir - and I have just three words in return: Kiss MY grits!
Triple Crown by Felix Francis (G.P. Putnam's Sons, October 2016); 382 pp.