In Felix Francis latest mystery “Triple Crown”, the 6th solo novel of his career, his main character Jeff Hinkley, an investigator with the British Horseracing Authority or BHA crosses the pond to help with an investigation of American horse racing. Felix Francis has honed his craft. While his novels are not as immediate, as in your face as the earliest Dick Francis novels, Felix Francis obviously knows the sport, discussing the drugging of horses with an expert eye. While his wording is still a
Jeff Hinkley’s friend Tony, the Deputy Director of FASCA, an American agency tasked with stopping corruption in sports is having a problem. FASCA’s raids on the horse racing community are being compromised. Suspected drug using horse trainers have cleaned shop, destroyed evidence, and shipped horses out of state just before a raid of their facility. Tony suspects an informant in his ranks. He wants Hinkley, who is unknown in America, to use his skills to root out the mole.
Hinkley comes to America just as the first leg of the Triple Crown in Kentucky is about to be run. He is there as an “observer” to watch his American compatriots do their jobs. But the first raid, planned to defeat the mole, again does not work out. And worse, something goes wrong right before the Kentucky Derby, right under FASCA’s nose. Three of the favorite three year old colts all get sick and have to pull out of the race, leaving the race wide open for the fourth favored horse, Fire Point, who wins. It all seems like too much of a coincidence to Hinkley.
Hinkley goes to work as a groom for George Raworth, the trainer for Fire Point, at Belmont. Convincingly, Francis’s description of the American system of employing grooms, their working conditions, the atmosphere of the “back office” of an American stable seems spot on. He knows the fodder fed to the horses, how grooms are paid, fed and how they care for the horses. Verisimilitude is clear.
Hinkley’s investigation has broadened. He soon suspects Raworth of drugging many of his horses illegally, but also of being instrumental in somehow getting the horses sick at the Kentucky Derby. Meanwhile, Hinkley has gotten unwanted attention from another groom Diego, who wants to stop Hinkley from getting involved with Maria, an attractive assistant.
So while Hinkley is trying to learn about Raworth’s machinations, and uncover the mole, he is also having to deal with Diego’s pranks and attacks. It makes his investigation harder. While the Diego subplot seems tacked on, it will inevitably have some connection.
It all comes to a head at the Belmont, when Hinkley comes face to face with the mole. It will be a showdown worthy of any mystery.
But the actual ending seemed a little hit and miss. While a bad guy is dealt with in a manner fitting to the Francis oeuvre in that his punishment is somewhat personal, the law gives a free pass.
Meanwhile, Hinkley is left without a clear path. I guess it was setting up a possible sequel.