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Even Money

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Overview

Ned Talbot is a small-time bookmaker on the edge of giving it all up when his world is turned upside down by a man who claims to be his father, long thought dead. And when the mysterious stranger is murdered, Ned feels compelled to find out exactly what is going on. But the more he discovers, the longer the odds become for his survival.

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Even Money

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Overview

Ned Talbot is a small-time bookmaker on the edge of giving it all up when his world is turned upside down by a man who claims to be his father, long thought dead. And when the mysterious stranger is murdered, Ned feels compelled to find out exactly what is going on. But the more he discovers, the longer the odds become for his survival.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
It's the first day of the grand Royal Ascot race, but Ned Talbot is hardly in a festive mood. This aging legal bookmaker has a lot of things on his mind: most painfully, his dwindling finances. With his earnings already depleted by big gambling conglomerates, he now faces the likelihood of another bettors' favorite winning and sucking up the loot. All Ned's woes slip to oblivion, however, when a man walks out of nowhere and identifies himself as his father, who supposedly died when Ned was an infant. In a moment, though, that changes too, as the man is knifed by an unknown assailant and can only mutter a few cryptic words before he lapses into unconsciousness. Suddenly, everything is at stake, racing quickly toward an unpredictable end.
Publishers Weekly
The third collaboration between bestseller Francis and son Felix (after Silks), a taut crime thriller, features an especially sympathetic hero. Bookmaker Ed Talbot is struggling with his wife's mental illness, even as technology threatens to give the big bookmaking outfits an insurmountable advantage over his small family business. Soon after a man shows up at Ascot and identifies himself as Ed's father, Peter, whom Ed believed long dead, a thug demanding money stabs Peter to death. Ed is in for even more shocks when he learns his father was the prime suspect in his mother's murder—and that Peter's killing, rather than a random act of violence, may be linked to a mysterious electronic device used in some horse-racing fraud. Ed must juggle his amateur investigations into past and present crimes with his demanding family responsibilities. Though some readers may find the ending overly pat, the authors make bookmaking intelligible while easily integrating it into the plot. (Aug.)
New York Times Book Review
Ever since he started writing with his son Felix, Dick Francis seems to have found fresh inspiration at the racetrack.
—Marilyn Stasio
People Magazine
With wit and an expert's understanding of both horses and homicide, the Francises will keep you riveted!
Kirkus Reviews
The father-and-son Francis team (Silks, 2008, etc.) turn their attention to the most reviled members of the horse-racing fraternity: on-site bookmakers. "My clients were never my friends," wryly observes Ned Talbot. Of course they aren't, since in the zero-sum game of bookmaking, Ned's earnings depend on their losses. Now someone is changing the rules of that game. Luca Mandini, Ned's assistant, reports that Internet and mobile-phone connections have gone down all over Ascot during crucial minutes when bookmakers have tried to lay off bets against favorites in order to reduce the money they'll have to pay out. More urgently, a stranger who identifies himself as Ned's father-a man his grandparents told him was killed in a car crash 36 years ago-is killed for good, stabbed to death in front of Ned's eyes an hour after they meet. Peter Talbot leaves his newfound son a disturbing legacy. A rucksack Ned recovers from his father's hotel room is hotly pursued by several unsavory and violent characters. Peter's return from Australia reopens painful questions about the death of his wife-questions whose answers are locked in the Alzheimer's-stricken brain of Ned's aged Nanna. Ned worries that telling his wife Sophia about these latest developments may produce a crisis in her bipolar disorder and condemn her to endless incarceration in the hospital. Meanwhile, a major bookmaker backed by a pair of bullyboys is bent on driving Ned out of business. A blissfully satisfying blend of suspense, revenge and horse-racing info in a multilayered mystery that's presumably Felix Francis's distinctive contribution to his father's legendary series.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425235904
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/3/2010
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 353,090
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Dick Francis

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.

Felix Francis (pictured with his father, Dick Francis), a graduate of London University, spent seventeen years teaching A-level physics before taking on an active role in his father’s career. He has assisted with the research of many of the Dick Francis novels, including Shattered, Under Orders, and Twice Shy, which drew on Felix’s experiences as a physics teacher and as an international marksman. He is coauthor with his father of the New York Times bestsellers Dead Heat, Silks, and Even Money. He lives in England.

Biography

Dick Francis was born in Lawrenny, South Wales in 1920. He served in the Royal Air Force for six years during World War II, piloting fighter and bomber aircraft including the Spitfire and Lancaster between 1943 and 1946.

Following the war, Francis, the son of a jockey, became a celebrity in the world of British National Hunt racing. He won more than 350 races, was Champion Jockey in 1953-1954, and was retained as jockey to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for four seasons, 1953 through 1957. Francis rode eight times in the world famous Grand National Steeplechase, and nearly won in 1956 when his horse, the Queen Mother's Devon Loch, a few strides away from victory with a clear field, suddenly collapsed. This incident, which Francis calls "both the high point and low point of my career as a jockey," was the impetus for him to begin a second career as a writer. Shortly after the incident, a literary agent approached Francis about writing an autobiography.

In 1957, Francis suffered another serious fall and was advised to retire from race riding. He completed his autobiography, The Sport of Queens, which was published later that year, and accepted an invitation to write six features for the London Sunday Express. He stayed on as the newspaper's racing correspondent for 16 years.

Sports writing soon led to fiction writing, which in turn led to a string of bestselling novels. His first, Dead Cert, was published in 1962. His 36th novel, 10 Lb. Penalty, was published in the U. S. by G. P. Putnam's Sons in September 1997. In addition to his novels and autobiography, Francis has also published a biography of Lester Piggott, A Jockey's Life, and eight short stories. He has edited (with John Welcome) four collections of racing stories, and has contributed to anthologies and periodicals.

Francis's books have been bestsellers in a number of countries, and have been translated into more than 30 languages, including all European languages, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Bantu, and several dialects of Chinese. Each of his novels has also been recorded on audio in both Britain and the United States.

Francis was made an Officer of the most noble Order of the British Empire in 1984, and was awarded the British Crime Writers Association silver dagger in 1965, gold dagger in 1980 and Cartier diamond dagger for his life's work in 1990. The recipient of three Edgar Allen Poe Awards for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, most recently for 1995's Come to Grief, Francis is the only person to have been awarded the prestigious award more than once. The Mystery Writers of America named Francis Grand Master for his life's work in 1996, and he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Tufts University in 1991.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Also Known As:
      Sir Richard Stanley Francis (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 31, 1920
    2. Place of Birth:
      Tenby, Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales
    1. Date of Death:
      February 14, 2010
    2. Place of Death:
      Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies

Read an Excerpt

Victoria, Australia
BOOKMAKERS’S ODDS AS USED ON BRITISH RACETRACKS
1
 
I sank deeper into depression as the Royal Ascot crowd I enthusiastically cheered home another short-priced winning favorite. To be fair, it wasn’t clinical depression—I knew all about that—but it was pretty demoralizing, just the same.
I asked myself yet again what I was doing here. I had never really enjoyed coming to Ascot, especially for these five days in June. It was usually much too hot to be wearing morning dress, or else it rained, and I would get soaked. I preferred the informality of my usual haunts, the smaller steeplechase tracks of the Midlands. But my grandfather, who had started the family business, had always used the fact that we stood at the Royal Meeting as one of our major marketing tools. He claimed that it gave us some form of respectability, something he had always craved.
We were bookmakers. Pariahs of the racing world. Disliked by all, and positively hated by many, including large numbers of those whose very livelihoods depended on gambling. I had discovered over the years that my clients were never my friends. Whereas City investors might develop a close relationship with their stockbrokers, punters never wanted to be seen socializing with their bookies. Most of my regulars didn’t even know my name, nor did they want  to. I suppose that was fair. I didn’t know most of their names either. We were simply participants in transactions where each of us was trying to bankrupt the other. I suppose it was a situation not really likely to engender mutual respect.
“Score on seven,” said a tall, top-hatted young man thrusting a banknote towards me. I glanced up at our board to check the odds we were offering on horse number seven.
“Twenty pounds on number seven at eleven-to-two,” I said, taking his note and adding it to the wad of others in my left hand.
A small printer in front of me whirred and disgorged a ticket that I handed to the man. He snatched it from me and moved quickly away into the throng as if he didn’t want to be seen fraternizing with the enemy. His place in front of me was taken by a short, portly gentleman whose multicolored vest was fighting a losing battle against his expansive stomach. He was one of my regular Royal Ascot customers. I knew him only as A.J., but I had no idea what the A.J. stood for.
“Hundred on Silverstone to win,” he wheezed at me, holding out some folded twenty-pound notes in his chubby fingers.
“Hundred on two at even money,” I said, taking his cash and checking the amount. Another betting slip appeared out of the small printer as if by magic, and I passed it over. “Good luck, A.J.,” I said to him, not really meaning it.
“Huh?” he said, somewhat surprised by my comment.
“Good luck,” I repeated.
“Thanks,” he wheezed, and departed.
In the good old days, when bookmaking was an art rather than a science, every transaction was written down in “the book” by an assistant. Nowadays, as in most things, it was on a computer that everything was recorded. The same computer that printed the betting slips.
It kept a running tally of all the bets that we had taken, and also  constantly updated our profit or liability for every possible outcome of the race. Gone were the days when it was down to the gut reaction of the bookmaker to decide when and by how much to change the prices we displayed on our fancy electronic board. Now the computer decided. Bookmaking was no longer by instinct, it was by fractions.
When I had started working for my grandfather I had been his “runner.” It had been my job to take cash from his hand and use it to back a horse with other bookmakers, a horse on which he had taken some large bets, in order to spread his risk. If the horse was beaten, he didn’t make so much, but, conversely, if it won, he didn’t lose so much either. Now even that was done by computer, betting and laying horses on the Internet exchanges, even during the actual running of the race. Somehow, the romance and the fun had disappeared.
Just as mobile phones have caused the demise of the tic-tac men, computer gambling was now killing off any bookmakers with personality who were prepared to back their hunches. And I wasn’t at all sure if it was good for the punters, or for racing.
“Twenty pounds, horse two,” said another man taking the plunge.
“Twenty on two at evens,” I repeated, not so much for the man in front of me, more for Luca Mandini, my assistant, to enter the bet on his computer.
Luca was my magician, my Internet whiz kid with a razor-sharp mathematical brain who stood right behind me. His fingers tapped his keyboard, and the betting slip duly appeared from the printer.
Without Luca, I was sure I would have given up by now, forced out by the relentless bullyboy tactics of the big bookmaking firms who did all they could to squeeze the profit out of the small independents. It was the same in the grocery trade, where the big supermarkets used their muscle to force the small shops to close.  They didn’t necessarily do it on purpose; they just did it in their never-ending drive for bottom-line figures to satisfy the expectations of some faceless group of shareholders. I was the sole shareholder in my business, and I felt the pain.
I lived in daily fear that Luca would be enticed away from me by some other outfit, maybe one of those big firms who, it seemed, would stop at nothing to put the likes of me out of business in their greedy quest to capture a larger share of the betting market.
I took the slip from the printer and handed it to the man standing patiently in front of me.
“Are you Teddy Talbot?” he asked.
“Who wants to know?” I asked him back while looking beyond for my next customer.
“I know your grandfather,” said the man, ignoring my question.
My grandfather’s name had indeed been Teddy Talbot, and it was his name that was still prominently displayed above our prices board next to me. The slogan actually read TRUST TEDDY TALBOT, as if the extra word might somehow encourage punters to bet with us rather than the next man.
“My grandfather’s dead,” I said, still looking beyond him and hoping that he would move away. He was disrupting my business.
“Oh,” he said. “When did he die?”
I looked down at him from my lofty position on a foot-high metal platform. He was gray haired, in his late fifties or early sixties, and wearing a cream linen suit over a light blue shirt that was open at the neck. I envied the coolness of his attire. “Look,” I said, “I’m busy. If you want to talk, come back later—after the last. Now, please move aside.”
“Oh,” he said again. “Sorry.”
He moved away, but only a short distance, from where he stood and watched me. I found it quite disconcerting.
“Weighed in,” announced someone over the public-address system.
A lady in a straw hat came up and held out a slip to me. I took it from her. TRUST TEDDY TALBOT was printed across the top, as it was on all our betting slips. It was a winning ticket from the previous race, the first of rather too many. Nowadays, the potential win amount had to be printed on the slip, so I scanned the details and paid her out for her win, tearing the slip in half and placing the bits into a hopper to my left. The transaction was wordless—no communication was necessary.
A line of winning-ticket holders was forming in front of me.
Betsy, Luca’s girlfriend, came and stood on my left. She paid out the winners while I took some of their winnings back as new bets on the next race. Luca scanned his screen and adjusted the prices on our board according to the bets I took and also the bets and lays he made on the Internet gambling exchanges via his computer behind me. It was like a balancing act, comparing potential gains against potential losses, always trying to keep both possibilities within acceptable ranges.
It was my surname on our board, and I was the handler of the punters’ cash, but, in truth, it was Luca with his computer who was the real bookmaker, betting online and setting our board prices to always try to keep our predicted return greater than one hundred percent, as indicated on his screen. Anything over a hundred percent was called the “overround” and represented profit, less than a hundred indicated loss. Our aim was to keep the overround at about nine percent, but all the mathematics relied on us taking bets in the correct proportions for our odds, something we tried to ensure by continually adjusting our prices. However, the punters didn’t always cooperate with our plans, so Luca tried his best to compensate by betting and laying on the Internet.
The computer was both our best friend and our worst enemy.  We liked to think that it was our slave, doing the jobs we gave it more efficiently than we could have done them ourselves. But, in reality, the computer was the master, and we were its slaves. The analysis and figures on its screen controlled our decisions without question. Technology, rather than insight, was now the idol we worshipped.
And so our day progressed. I became hotter and hotter, both over and under the collar, as the sun broke through the veil of cloud, while heavily backed, short-priced winners continued to make it a great day for the punters while pushing down our percentage return into the red.
I didn’t need to wear my stifling morning suit, as our pitch wasn’t actually in the Royal Enclosure. But we were close to the enclosure rail, in a prime position, and many of my clients wore the coveted name badges of those admitted to the inner sanctum. Besides, my grandfather had always worn formal dress at this meeting, and, since my eighteenth birthday, he had insisted that I did so too. At least he hadn’t decreed that we should have top hats as well.
I had never in fact applied to be admitted to the Royal Enclosure because there were no bookmaker pitches on that side of the fence. I did sometimes wonder if being a bookmaker would somehow disqualify one from admittance, like being a divorcée had once done.
Another favorite won the fifth race to huge cheers from the packed grandstand. I sighed audibly.
“It’s not so bad,” said Luca in my ear. “I had most of that covered.”
“Good,” I said over my shoulder.
The string of short-priced winners had forced us to try to limit our losses by adjusting down the offered prices on our board. Unlike in a shop, punters went in search of the highest prices as  that represented a better return for their bets, provided, of course, they won. So lower prices meant that we didn’t do as much business. Even our regular clients tended to go elsewhere, chasing the fractionally better odds offered by others—there was absolutely no loyalty amongst punters.
The man in the linen suit still stood about five yards away and watched.
“Hold the fort,” I said to Betsy. “I need a pee.”
“Will do,” she said.
I walked across to the man.
“What exactly do you want?” I demanded.
“Nothing,” he said defensively. “I was just watching.”
“Why?” I demanded again.
“No reason,” he said.
“Then why don’t you go and watch someone else instead?” I said forcefully.
“I’m not doing any harm,” he almost wailed.
“Maybe not, but I don’t like it,” I said. “So go away. Now.”
I walked past him and into the grandstand in search of the Gents’.
When I returned, he’d gone.
“Thanks,” I said to Betsy as I again stood up on the platform.
“Come on,” I shouted at the small crowd in front of me. “Who wants a wager?” I glanced up at the board. “Eleven-to-four the field.”
There were a few takers but business was slow. As every race seemed to be a losing one from our point of view, it was probably just as well. At this rate, the more business we did, the more we lost.
However, there was some respite when the last race of the day was won by a twenty-to-one outsider, the favorite having been boxed in against the rails until it was too late.
“That saved our bacon,” said Luca with a broad grin.
“Saved your job, you mean,” I said, smiling back at him.
“In your dreams,” he replied.
In my nightmares, more like.
“So what’s the total?” I asked him.
In the good old days, it was easy to tell how we had done simply by the size of the wad of banknotes in my pocket, but these days we also had to consider our credit card balance with the Internet exchanges.
“Down fifteen hundred and sixty-two,” he said with certainty, consulting his machine.
“Could be worse,” I said, but I couldn’t actually remember a previous first-day Tuesday at Royal Ascot when we had lost money.
“Sure could,” he said. “If the favorite had won the last, we would have been off another grand more at least.”
I raised my eyebrows at him, and he grinned. “I didn’t manage to take as much of the favorite as I wanted on the exchanges. Damn Internet link went down.”
“Just us or everyone?” I asked seriously.
“Dunno,” he said, intrigued. “I’ll find out.”
Luca and I started to pack up our equipment as Betsy paid out the occasional winning ticket. Most of the racegoers were streaming for the exits to try to beat the traffic jams, and, no doubt, there would be more winning tickets from the last race handed in the following day.
We kept a record on our computer of all the bets taken, both winning and losing, and it never ceased to amaze me how many of the winning tickets were never cashed. Presumably some were lost, and perhaps some inebriated punters didn’t realize they were winners, but almost every day there were two or three winning bets that were never claimed. “Sleepers,” they were called, and they were like a cash bonus for us. But it was one we could never  completely rely on. Our tickets didn’t have an expiry date on them, and, only the day before, I’d had to cash a sleeper from the Royal Ascot Meeting of the previous year. Maybe it had been hiding for twelve months in the deep recesses of someone’s morning-coat pocket, or tucked into the hatband of a topper, waiting quietly to be discovered and paid out.
The crowd had mostly dispersed to the parking lots by the time Luca, Betsy and I had packed up the majority of our gear and loaded it onto our little wheeled trolley that ingeniously doubled up as a base for our computer during the racing. The betting ring was deserted save for the other bookmakers, who, like us, were packing up amongst the detritus of a day’s gambling: discarded newspapers, torn-up betting slips, crumpled coffee cups and half-eaten sandwiches.
“Do you fancy a beer?” Luca asked as I pulled one of the elastic straps over our equipment.
“I’d love one,” I said, looking up at him. “But I can’t. I have to go and see Sophie.”
He nodded at me knowingly. “Some other time, then. Betsy and I are going to go and have one, if that’s all right with you. We’re taking the train into town later to go to the party in the park.”
“Right,” I said. “You go on. I’ll pack up the rest of the stuff.”
“Can you manage?” he asked.
He knew I could. I did it all the time. But this little exchange was his way of not taking it completely for granted.
I smiled at him. “No problem,” I said, waving a dismissing hand at them. “Go on. I’ll see you both in the morning. Usual time.”
“OK,” said Luca. “Thanks.”
Luca and Betsy went off together, leaving me standing alone next to the tarpaulin-covered equipment trolley. I watched them go, Betsy hand in hand with her young man. At one point they stopped and embraced before disappearing out of my sight into the grandstand. Just another happy couple on their way, I assumed, to  the bandstand bar, where there was usually an impromptu drinking party after each day’s racing.
I sighed.
I supposed I must have been that happy once. But it had been a long time ago. What, I wondered, had happened to all the happy times? Had they deserted me for ever?
I wiped my brow with the sleeve of my jacket and thought about how I would absolutely adore a nice cooling beer. I wanted to change my mind and go to find the other two, but I knew that it would end up being more trouble than it was worth. It always was.
I sighed again and stacked the last few of our equipment boxes onto the trolley, then fixed the rest of the elastic cords across the green tarpaulin. I took hold of the handle and released the brakes from the wheels. As I had told Luca, I could just about manage it alone, although it was always easier with two, especially up the concrete slope towards the tunnel through the grandstand. I tugged hard on the handle.
“Do you want a hand with that?” a voice shouted from behind me.
I stopped pulling and turned around. It was the man in the cream linen suit. He was about fifteen yards away, leaning up against the metal fence between the betting ring and the Royal Enclosure. I hadn’t noticed him as we’d packed up, and I wondered how long he’d been there watching me.
“Who’s offering?” I called back to him.
“I knew your grandfather,” he said again while walking over to me.
“You said,” I replied.
But lots of people knew my grandfather, and nearly all of them hadn’t liked him. He had been a typically belligerent bookie who had treated both his customers and his fellow bookmakers with  almost the same degree of contempt that they clearly held for him. He had been what many might have called a “character” on the racetrack, standing out in all weathers at an age when most men would be content to put their feet up in retirement. Yes, indeed, lots of people had known my grandfather, but he’d had precious few friends, if any.
“When did he die?” asked the man, taking hold of one side of the handle.
We pulled the trolley together in silence up the slope to the grandstand and stopped on the flat of the concourse. I turned and looked at my helper. His gray hair was accentuated by the deeply tanned skin of his face. I reckoned it wasn’t an English-summer tan.
“Seven years ago,” I said.
“What did he die from?” he asked. I could detect a slight accent in his voice, but I couldn’t quite place it.
“Nothing, really,” I said. “Just old age.”And bloody-mindedness, I thought. It was as if he had decided that he’d had his allocated stretch in this world and it was time to go to the next. He had returned from Cheltenham races and had seemingly switched off inside on the Friday, and then he had expired on the Sunday evening. The post-mortem pathologist couldn’t say why he had died. All his bits had apparently been working quite well and his brain had been sharp. I was sure he had simply willed himself to death.
“But he wasn’t very old,” said the man.
“Seventy-eight,” I said. “And two days.”
“That’s not old,” said the man, “not these days.”
“It was old enough for him,” I said.
The man looked at me quizzically.
“My grandfather decided that his time was up, so he lay down and died.”
“You’re kidding?” he said.
“Nope,” I said. “Absolutely serious.”
“Silly old bugger,” he said, almost under his breath.
“Exactly how well did you know my grandfather?” I asked him.
“I’m his son,” he said.
I stared at him with an open mouth.
“So you must be my uncle,” I said.
“No,” he said, staring back. “I’m your father.”
2
But you can’t be my father,” I said, nonplussed.
“Ican,”he said with certainty, “and I am.”
“My father’s dead,” I said.
“How do you know?” he asked. “Did you see him die?” “How do you know?” he asked. “Did you see “No,” I said. “I just . . . know. My parents died in a car crash.”
“Is that what your grandfather told you?”
My legs felt detached from my body. I was thirty-seven years old, and I had believed for as long as I could remember that I was fatherless. And motherless too. An orphan. I had been raised by my grandparents, who had told me that both my parents had died when I was a baby. Why would they lie?
“But I’ve seen a photo,” I said.
“Of what?” he asked.
“Of my parents,” I said.
“So you recognize me, then?”
“No,” I said. But the photo was very small and at least thirty-seven years old, so would I actually recognize him now?
“Look,” he said. “Is there anywhere we could go and sit down?”
In the end I did have that beer.
We sat at a table near the bar overlooking the pre-parade ring while the man in the cream linen suit told me who I was.
I wasn’t sure what to believe. I couldn’t understand why my grandparents would have lied to me, but, equally, why would this stranger suddenly appear and lie to me now? It made no sense.
“Your mother and I were in a road accident,” he told me. He looked down. “And then she died.” He paused for a long time as if wondering whether to carry on.
I sat there in silence, looking at him. I didn’t feel any real emotion, just confusion.
“Why?” I asked.
“Why what?” he said.
“Why have you come here today to tell me this?” I began to feel angry that he had chosen to disrupt my life in this way. “Why didn’t you stay away?” I raised my voice at him. “Why didn’t you stay away as you have done for the past thirty-seven years?”
“Because I wanted to see you,” he said. “You are my son.”
“No, I’m not,” I shouted at him.
There were a few others enjoying a quick drink before making their way home, and they were looking in our direction.
“You are,” he said quietly, “whether you like it or not.”
“But how can you be so sure?” I was clutching at imaginary straws.
“Edward, don’t be stupid,” he said, picking at his fingers.
It was the first time he had used my name, and it sounded odd. I had been christened Edward, but I’d been known as Ned all my life. Not even my grandfather had called me Edward, except, that is, when he was cross with me or I had done something naughty as a child.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Peter,” he said. “Peter James Talbot.”
My father’s name was indeed Peter James Talbot. It said so in green ink on both my birth certificate and his. I knew by heart every element of those documents. Over the years the handwritten details on them had somehow been the only tangible link to my parents, that and the small creased-and-fading photograph that I still carried with me everywhere.
I removed my wallet from my pocket and passed the photo over to him.
“Blackpool,” he said with confidence, studying the image. “This was taken in Blackpool. We were there for the illuminations in November. Tricia, your mother, was about three months pregnant. With you.”
I took the photo back and looked again closely at the young man standing next to a dark green Ford Cortina, as I had done hundreds of times before. I glanced up at the man in front of me and then back down at the picture. I couldn’t say for sure that they were the same person, but, equally, I couldn’t say they weren’t.
“It is me, I assure you,” he said. “That was my first car. I was nineteen when that picture was taken.”
“How old was my mother?” I asked.
“Seventeen, I think,” he said. “Yes, she must have been just seventeen. I tried to teach her to drive on that trip.”
“You started young.”
“Yes . . . well.” He seemed embarrassed. “You weren’t actually planned, as such. More of a surprise.”
“Oh thanks,” I replied somewhat sarcastically. “Were you married?” I asked.
“Not when that picture was taken, no.”
“How about when I was born?” I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know.
“Oh yes,” he said with certainty. “We were by then.”
Strangely, I was relieved that I was legitimate and not a bastard. But did it really matter? Yes, I decided, it did. It meant that there  had been commitment between my parents, maybe even love. They cared, or, at least, they had then.
“Why did you leave?” I asked him. It was the big question.
He didn’t answer immediately but sat quiet, still looking at me.
“Shame, I suppose,” he said eventually. “After your mother died, I couldn’t cope with having a baby and no wife. So I ran away.”
“Where to?” I asked.
“Australia,” he said. “Eventually. First I signed onto a Liberian-registered cargo ship in the Liverpool docks. I went all over the world for a while. I got off one day in Melbourne and just stayed there.”
“So why come back now?”
“It seemed like a good idea,” he said.
It wasn’t.
“What did you expect?” I asked. “Did you think I would just welcome you with open arms after all this time? I thought you were dead.” I looked at him. “I think it might be better for me if you were.”
He looked back at me with doleful eyes. Perhaps I had been a bit hard.
“Well,” I said, “it would definitely have been better if you hadn’t come back.”
“But I wanted to see you,” he said.
“Why?” I demanded loudly. “You haven’t wanted to for the last thirty-seven years.”
“Thirty-six,” he said.
I threw my hands up in frustration. “That’s even worse,” I said. “It means you deserted me when I was a year old. How could a father do that?” I was getting angry again. So far my own life had not been blessed with children, but it was not from a lack of longing.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
I wasn’t sure it was enough.
“So what made you want to see me now?” I said. “You can’t just have decided suddenly after all this time.” He sat there in front of me in silence. “You didn’t even know that your own father was dead. And what about your mother? You haven’t asked me about her.”
“It was only you I wanted to see,” he said.
“But why now?” I asked him again.
“I’ve been thinking about it for some time,” he said.
“Don’t try and tell me you had a fit of conscience after all these years,” I scoffed at him with an ironic laugh.
“Edward,” he said somewhat sternly, “it doesn’t befit you to be so caustic.”
The laughter died in my throat. “You have no right to tell me how to behave,” I replied with equal sternness. “You forfeited that right when you walked away.” He looked down like a scalded cat. “So what do you want?” I asked him. “I’ve got no money.”
His head came up again quickly. “I don’t want your money,” he said.
“What, then?” I asked. “Don’t expect me to give you any love.”
“Are you happy?” he asked suddenly.
“Deliriously,” I lied. “I leap out of bed each morning with joy in my heart, delighting at the miracle of a new day.”
“Are you married?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, giving no more details. “Are you?”
“No,” he replied. “Not anymore. But I have been. Twice—three times, if you count your mother.”
I thought I probably would count my mother.
“Widowed twice and divorced once,” he said with a wry smile. “In that order.”
“Children?” I asked. “Other than me.”
“Two,” he said. “Both girls.”
I had sisters. Half sisters anyway
“How old are they?”
“Both in their twenties now, late twenties, I suppose. I haven’t seen them for, oh, fifteen years.”
“You seem to have made a habit of deserting your children.”
“Yes,” he said wistfully. “It appears I have.”
“Why didn’t you leave me alone and go and find them?”
“But I know where they are,” he said. “They won’t see me, not the other way round. They blame me for their mother’s death.”
“Did she die in a car crash too?” I said with a touch of cruelty in my voice.
“No,” he said slowly. “Maureen killed herself.” He paused, and I sat still watching him. “I was made bankrupt, and she swallowed enough tablets to kill a horse. I came home from the court to find bailiffs sitting in the driveway and my wife lying dead in the house.”
His life was like a soap opera, I thought. Disaster and sorrow had been a constant companion.
“Why were you made bankrupt?” I asked.
“Gambling debts,” he said.
“Gambling debts!” I was astounded. “And you the son of a bookmaker.”

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 41 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 41 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Not the Dick Francis I know and Love

    I have read every Dick Francis novel and even preordered Even Money because I was so excited to see that a new book was being released. However, within the first few pages I could tell that Dick Francis probably did not contribute much to this book. One of the great aspects of a Dick Francis novel is that you get to know and care about the main character very quickly (for example Sid Halley). The stories were always exciting and pulled you in. When Silks was released I was excited to see that Felix Francis was writing with his father. I thought that the Francis style would continue on. But that does not seem to be the case. Even Money seems to drag along at a very slow pace and is laden with details about horse betting that do not advance the story. Also, even though Dick Francis novels are centered around horse tracks in Britain, there is much more vernacular in this book than any of the other books. So I am very disappointed; I miss the Dick Francis style that I have come to love.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Dick and Felix Francis once again affirm that a father-son writing team can provide quality mysteries

    The first day of the Royal Ascot horse races gala was like any other opening at the prestigious event and Ted Talbot, his co-worker Luca, and their assistant Betsy are taking book from the punters. Out of the crowd comes an elderly man demanding to speak with Ted. He insists that he is Peter James Talbot, Ted's father. This is a shocker as Ted was raised by his paternal grandparents who claimed his parents died in a car crash.

    Peter informs his still stunned son that he has two half-sisters living in Australia, but before they can get into a car, two thugs demand the older Talbot hand over the money. During the subsequent brawl, James is injured and rushed to the hospital where he dies. Ted goes to his dad's hotel room and finds proof that his father was involved in an illegal activity. The thugs still demand their loot and the code used on chips that are imprinted and then inserted into the horses. Ted's life is in jeopardy but he also wants justice for his father and the insurance these punks will not go after him or his loved ones in the future. He ignores the cops because the lead police officer investigating his father's death assumes he is guilty of something.

    Dick and Felix Francis once again affirm that a father-son writing team can provide quality mysteries. Readers are caught up in British horse racing (a trademark of father) and the shenanigans that occur away from the track including some instigated by Ted. Still he receives plenty of empathy as criminals are coming after him as the likely recipient of his father's legacy, he has a mentally ill wife institutionalized, and a co-worker wanting to be his partner in the family business. With plenty of thrills, chills, and spills EVEN MONEY is a sure bet.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2010

    Interesting point of view

    I was surprised by some of the negative reviews. I actually really enjoyed listening to this audiobook. The handling of mental illness was done well and the characters were likeable.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2009

    Another winner from Dick Francis

    Ned Talbot runs his grandfather's bookmaking (as in gambling) business with a young computer expert named Luca. Life is going by day after day until a stranger introduces himself to Ned at the Ascot races. From there, Ned discovers far more than he ever planned and uncovers secrets from both the present and the distant past.

    This mystery is more like three mysteries in one, all with Ned as the critical component. Ned is such an interesting character and has a lot of depth. He deals with real issues concerning his family, his past, and his business. And it all comes together at the end in a complex ending that will have you turning the last 70 pages and not putting it down.

    I admit that I'm a huge fan of Dick Francis, and if you like his books you'll find another winner here. I was not disappointed with this one, and read it straight through. A thoroughly enjoyable mystery/thriller.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2010

    Another winner!

    I am so glad Mr. Francis is back to writing. You can tell his son is assisting with the writing; it's not quite the same but it is VERY close to the original Dick Francis style. What I think is different, and not quite as good, is the depth of the plot. But it is a great mystery, thrilling and minus the stupid blood/gore of some mysteries. I look forward to more from the Francis's.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2009

    Even Money

    Worst book Dick Frances has ever written, if he actually wrote this.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 21, 2009

    What are the odds?

    Once again Dick Francis takes us behind the scenes and shows us the world of the bookmakers plying their trade at the race track. How the odds are set and then reset based upon the amount of bets placed before each race. The gamemanship between the on tract bookies and the large off track betting houses to assure that they always end up after each race paying out less then they take in. To complicate our bookmaker's life, he is confronte by his father who was supposedly been long dead, only to have him murdered a few hours later. Now our bookie must find his father's killer while he keeps hie eye on the odds. Great relaxing read for a day at the beach or curled up in fromt of a fire on a cold night.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A great Book!!!!!

    As usual Dick & Felix Francis have teamed up for a great book. It is exciting and you like the characters. I would recommend this book to anyone that likes a great murder mystery.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    I have read every Dick Francis book

    but this one falls a bit short. Too much slogging through the technicalities of what a bookmaker's life is like to get to the plot and the mystery. I was disappointed because I just wanted to have a good read that took me away like the Dick Francis of old but this was more of a how to be a bookmaker mixed in with a plot that could have been expanded and thus more interesting to the reader.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2012

    Excellent.

    I have read just about all of Dick Francis' books. This was vintage Francis. There is always some connection to horses, and he always takes pains to educate the reader so the reader will understand the various problems the characters are going through. The characters are likable, believable, and the reader is always left wanting more. I would geartily reccommend this book to anyone, especially fans of Dick and Felix Francis.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Ok, not the best

    Read above.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Good book

    This was a good book. I would recommend it to others and will read/listen to books by the Francis' again.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 11, 2009

    Not the best Dick Francis entry.

    Really not a very intersting book. There are lots better Dick Francis books than this one.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2009

    Even Money

    This is a good book! However, as with all of Dick Francis' books, it is hard to get into. Once you get into it, it takes off and has a life of it's own.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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