Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Train Trip Across Canada Leads to Trouble in This Novel By Dick Francis

Tor Kelsey is young, single, and independently wealthy, which leaves him free to do virtually whatever he wants. He chooses to work as an undercover agent for the English Jockey Club, ferreting out threats to the English racing world. Kelsey is particularly gifted at disguising himself, blending into whatever circumstances in which he might find himself, and sneaking up on his quarry who never even notice that he's there.

In this case, a thuggish blackmailer named Julius Apollo Filmer has insinuated himself into the world of British racing so cleverly that the Powers That Be have no way of driving him out. Kelsey is assigned to get the needed evidence, which becomes increasingly important when Filmer joins an expedition called the Great Transcontinental Mystery Race.

In this case, the continent in question is North America, and a group of very wealthy and socially prominent owners are taking their horses on a week-long trip across Canada. The trip is designed to promote Canadian horse racing and it will be a very lavish party with some important horse races along the way. Kelsey will join the party on the train masquerading as a waiter, while he attempts to prevent whatever disaster Filmer intends to cause along the way. As always, an attractive woman will enter the picture, and Tor and the woman will do the slow dance leading to romance that is a hallmark of these novels.

The story is okay and will remind the reader in some respects of Agatha Christie's great novel, Murder on the Orient Express. The journey across Canada is interesting, and the scenery along the way is well-described. To my mind, though, this is not among the best of the Dick Francis novels because it lacks the tension that usually exists between the protagonist and the (always) nasty villain. Without giving anything away, the climax of the novel isn't quite up to the author's usual standards and thus this book seems a bit flat compared to many of the others. It's enjoyable, but a three-star read rather than anything more.

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