Tor Kelsey, orphaned at a young age, was brought up by his aunt. His aunt loved to go to the racecourse, so Tor is very familiar with horses, racing, and has a wide, versatile knowledge of personalities. Although he is left a huge inheritance and will never have to be concerned about finances, he decides to take employment in security for the Jockey Club, and so the mystery begins.
If Tor seems a little mature and confident for his age, that is simply ‘par for the course’ in this Dick Francis novel. All of his heroes are bigger-than-life (although not offensive), assured, and have a variety of rare and admirable talents. Tor himself, rather than enjoying an affluent lifestyle, decides that in order to keep his integrity, he needs to keep himself busy. Tor wants to maintain his self-respect; a rare quality in the indulgent (“I have my rights!”) thinking of today.
“It isn’t so easy,” I said slowly, “and don’t laugh, it really isn’t so easy to be able to afford anything you want. Short of the Crown Jewels and trifles like that. Well… I don’t find it easy…I’m like a child loose in a sweet shop. I could eat and eat… and make myself sick… and greedy… and a jelly-fish. So I keep my hands off the sweets and occupy my time following crooks. “
Julius Filmer has already been acquitted in the murder of a stable boy, after threatening and deterring several witnesses for the prosecution. The Jockey Club has learned that Filmer has purchased tickets for the train through Canada that will be making several stops at racecourses along the way, and his purposes are deemed to be neither innocent nor virtuous.
“In the context of ten thousand years, I thought, what did Filmer and his sins matter? Yet all we had was here and now, and here and now was always where the struggle toward goodness had to be fought. Toward virtue, morality, uprightness, order: call it what one liked. A long, ever-recurring battle.”
Tor’s problem is to discover where Filmer is going to strike next, and so he is given the assignment of catching him ‘in the act’. The problem is that no one seems to know what that particular act will be, and Tor has to be both vigilant and ‘invisible’ to the passengers. Tor is a genius at finding creative solutions for blending into his environment and the reader is entertained by his quick-thinking and inventive disguises.
The plot is complicated with an entertainment-style staged mystery for the passengers, something that I did not always follow (to be honest), and at first felt superfluous. However the author demonstrates his clever plotting when further on in the book, Tor creatively uses the actors in the mystery-play to expose Filmer and bring him to justice (something I must admit caught me by surprise!)
Although not my favorite from the author so far, this novel was more low-key than others of his, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.