AGene Hawkins is an English civil servant--actually a very astute investigator for a department that is never named. He's also severely depressed following the end of a love affair and is toying with the idea of suicide. He has a three-week vacation coming, and this is probably not good news for a man who has no life outside of his work and who is thinking of ending his own life.
Just as his vacation begins though, Hawkins's boss asks him to accompany him and his family on a Sunday afternoon boating outing. This is very odd, since the boss has never before asked Hawkins to socialize outside of work. The boss's precocious young daughter picks Hawkins up and drives him to the boat. They cast off and the boss introduces Gene to the rest of his family and to his other guest, a man named Dave Teller.
Obviously, there's an ulterior motive lurking behind the invitation, and it turns out that Teller is part of a syndicate that has just lost a very expensive horse in the United States. This is the third such horse that has gone missing, the boss wonders if Hawkins would mind using his vacation to go to the U.S. and investigate the matter as a favor to Teller.
Hawkins has no interest in undertaking such a mission and turns the offer down. But then, while the party is still on the river, an incident occurs that convinces Hawkins to change his mind. Before long he's on his way to the U.S. and begins tracking the latest missing horse. Obviously, this is going to be a very dangerous mission, But his adversaries have no idea that Hawkins is already contemplating ending his own life, so what does he have to lose?
This book is a bit unusual for a Dick Francis novel in that most of it takes place in the U.S., rather than the U.K. And, while there are horses involved, the main protagonist is not actually part of the racing world. It's a fun, quick read, but maybe not quite on a par with a lot of other Dick Francis books. Hawkins is an OK protagonist, but one of the things that usually characterizes a Dick Francis novel is an especially menacing bad guy who's controlling things from behind the scenes. The villains here are not as scary as usual, but that's a relatively small complaint and fans of Dick Francis should certainly enjoy this effort.