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by Dick Francis

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Architect Lee Morris has plans to restore Stratton Park racecourse to its former grandeur. But the combative Stratton heirs have violent plans of their own.


Architect Lee Morris has plans to restore Stratton Park racecourse to its former grandeur. But the combative Stratton heirs have violent plans of their own.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times
Philadelphia Inquirer
One of his best.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dick Francis knows horses, but in this deeply satisfying novel of intrigue, he shows that he also has a handle on architecture, construction, even crowd control. Narrator Lee Morris, 35, is an architect/builder specializing in restoring ``ruins'' like his own splendid barn house inhabited by his six sons and his lovely, but increasingly remote, wife. He is also one of few shareholders in Stratton Park racecourse, ownership of which is being hotly contested by the heirs of Lord Stratton. Lee's mother had married and quickly divorced the baron's vicious son Keith. Since part of her divorce settlement included the racecourse stock, Lee (accompanied by his five eldest sons) attends a shareholders meeting. With few exceptions the Strattons are a very nasty crew--cheats, blackmailers, just plain vicious--and during the course of the fight over selling or restoring the track, Lee is beaten, nearly blown up and finally forced to race to save his sons at the excruciating climax. Francis's deft plotting and sharp characterization are, as usual, on the mark: both Lee and his progeny are realistic and appealing. And as usual, he excels in exposing some of England's nastier class habits, meanwhile affirming the morality of his protagonist. BOMC main selection; QPB alternate; Reader's Digest selection; author tour. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Meet Lee Morris, an architect with six children and a small share in a successful racetrack, Stratton Park. Morris becomes embroiled in the excitement of the racetrack and a fight for its control. This is the last thing he ought to become involved in, especially considering the many skeletons in the Stratton family closets. The personalities in Francis's ( Driving Force , Audio Reviews, LJ 4/1/93; Proof , Audio Reviews, LJ 4/15/93) tale are strong and the action swift. Simon Jones narrates well, and the abridgment is unobtrusive. This will do well in general collections.-- Miriam Kahn, Columbus, Ohio
Emily Melton
The newest entry is this popular series once again features Francis' signature horseracing theme. Architect Lee Morris has been a stockholder in Stratton Park racecourse ever since his mother inherited shares as part of a divorce settlement. When track-owner Lord Stratton dies, he leaves his heirs bitterly divided about the park's future. The younger scions want it razed so big-bucks developers can make their mark (and pay handsomely for the prime real estate). The older relatives want to preserve it intact. The course manager wants it modernized: changing rooms for the female jockeys, elevators, and comfortable seats. Lee finds himself unwillingly drawn into the family dispute when someone blows up the grandstand. Convinced that one of the Strattons is behind the dastardly crime, Lee is determined to find out which one--and save the racetrack for future racing enthusiasts. Francis has created a strong supporting cast of Stratton characters--irresponsible grandson Dart, vindictive son Keith, temperamental Rebecca, and indomitable matriarch Marjorie--set against the intelligent, admirable hero. The plot is entertainingly cunning and effectively paced if not highly original. And there's even some pleasantly, witty Francis-style humor, mostly involving Lee's attempts at parenting. A master manipulator of the formula plot, Francis has created yet another odds on winner. Bet on it.
Kirkus Reviews
Francis's newest suspenser (his 32nd) is typical not only in its racetrack setting, but in its doubling of the hero's mildly dysfunctional family (he and his diffident wife are held together only by their brood of six sons) with another family of deep-dyed villains. Because his mother Madeline was once married into the fractious Stratton family, owners of the Stratton Park racecourse, architect/ builder Lee Morris, a restorer of ruined houses, owns a small number of voting shares in the course. His long-standing revulsion from Madeline's wife-beating first husband Keith Stratton has kept him away from the family—especially from his half-sister Hannah, a child of marital rape—and, despite the pleas of course manager Roger Gardner, he intends to keep his distance even when Keith's father, Lord William Stratton, dies. But an invitation to a meeting of the shareholders leads to an unexpected request from matriarchal Marjorie Binsham, William's sister—to look into the question of whether the outdated grandstands really need replacing—and while he's poking around along with his five oldest sons, an explosion rocks the stands and nearly kills him. Sabotage, of course; but was the culprit habitual animal- rights picketer Harold Quest, or one of the Stratton heirs—Keith himself, his despised twin Conrad (the new head of the family), their ineffectual brother Ivan—or one of their children—spiteful unwed mother Hannah, sullen jockey Rebecca, insouciant Dart, or troublemaking Forsyth? Francis's biggest coup here is his success in delineating shades and varieties of wickedness in the superbly monstrous Strattons. Despite an unconvincing hint of May-Decemberromance for his fatalistic hero, this is the most elaborate and satisfying of his recent books—a winner from the starting gate to the last hurdle. (Book-of-the-Month Dual Selection)

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.28(w) x 6.83(h) x 0.94(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Dick Francis (pictured with his son Felix Francis) was born in South Wales in 1920. He was a young rider of distinction winning awards and trophies at horse shows throughout the United Kingdom. At the outbreak of World War II he joined the Royal Air Force as a pilot, flying fighter and bomber aircraft including the Spitfire and Lancaster.

He became one of the most successful postwar steeplechase jockeys, winning more than 350 races and riding for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. After his retirement from the saddle in 1957, he published an autobiography, The Sport of Queens, before going on to write more than forty acclaimed books, including the New York Times bestsellers Even Money and Silks.

A three-time Edgar Award winner, he also received the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger, was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2000. He died in February 2010, at age eighty-nine, and remains among the greatest thriller writers of all time.

Brief Biography

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
Date of Birth:
October 31, 1920
Date of Death:
February 14, 2010
Place of Birth:
Tenby, Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales
Place of Death:
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
Dropped out of Maidenhead County School at age 15.

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Decider 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly entertaining, this novel kept my interest. I couldn't put it down. With life-life characters, Francis has developed an intriguing story of architect Lee Morris and his involvement with Stratton Park relatives. The relationship between Morris and his sons was also captivating. This is the best Dick Francis book I have read, and I think I've read them all!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lee Morris is one of my favorite characters and I greatly enjoyed descriptions of his renovation work as my husband and I do the same work. Lee's numerous children are well-drawn and individual. The ending always makes me laugh and cry
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dick Francis keeps you right on the edge all the way to the finish line.
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Dick Francis uses his ability to capture the viciousness of a family feud to produce a tense mystery surrounding a family's decision as to whether to sell the horse racing track to developers or to revitalize it, with a hated outsider finding himself at the center of it all.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I was very disappointed by the slow pace and lack of activity for most of the book. The plot didn't seem very realistic and was hampered by several plot holes. Also, the characters were fairly 'cardboard' in that the hero always did the good and honourable thing no matter what adversity was on him. The only lapses in his upstanding character were so minor as to not be worth mentioning. The villain was pure evil -- I am surprised the author didn't include descriptions of him running over puppies on his way to board meetings. Finally, the characters did not seem to respond realistically to the villain. That is, even though he seemingly never helped anyone but himself and was well known as dishonest, the other characters would believe everything he said without doubt. I think more realistically, they would be a bit more suspicious and check out his claims a little before accepting them.