Ending a six-year publishing hiatus (after the tragic death of his wife and fellow collaborator, Mary, in 2000), the 86-year-old Grand Master of Crime Fiction, Dick Francis, is back with a new mystery starring ex-jockey/detective Sid Halley (Come to Grief, Whip Hand, et al.).
Halley and his best friend -- his former father-in-law, Charles Rowland -- are enjoying a day at the races, attending the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup in Gloucestershire. The event, however, is marred by three bizarre deaths: A fan suffers a heart attack; Oven Cleaner, a "god among racehorses," suddenly dies after winning a race; and an acclaimed jockey named Huw Walker is found dead with three bullet holes in his chest. Halley is hired on to investigate, but the allegedly open-and-shut case involving marital infidelity soon becomes complicated with rumors of race fixing and high-stakes gambling.
Under Orders is unquestionably vintage Francis; but the story behind the novel is what makes this release so noteworthy. For years, Francis has credited his beloved wife with playing an integral role in the creation of his novels -- as editor, researcher, and even coauthor. Under Orders, the first novel since her passing, is interspersed with lines that could have much deeper, more intimate connotations: "To love someone is a delight; to be loved back as well is a joy beyond measure." One thing is certain: After six years, Francis is right where he belongs -- back in the literary saddle. Paul Goat Allen