Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
Jeff Hinkley, investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, has been seconded to the US Federal Anti-Corruption in Sports Agency (FACSA) where he has been asked to find a mole in their organization—an informant who is passing on confidential information to those under suspicion in American racing. At the Kentucky Derby, Jeff joins the FACSA team in a raid on a horse trainer’s barn at Churchill Downs, but the bust is a disaster, and someone ends up dead. Then, on the morning of the Derby itself, three of the most favored horses in the field fall sick.
These suspicious events can be no coincidence. In search of answers, Jeff goes undercover as a groom on the backstretch at Belmont Park racetrack in New York. But he discovers far more than he was bargaining for: corrupt individuals who will stop at nothing—including murder—to capture the most elusive prize in world sport, the Triple Crown.
If thriller writing was thoroughbred racing, you’d have to say Felix Francis comes from exquisite bloodlines: his father Dick is the only author to ever win three Edgars for Best Novel. While talent doesn’t always pass so clearly from sire to colt in the creative arts as it does in horse racing, Felix has certainly proven a champion storyteller in his own right.
Felix’s latest racing mystery sees the welcome return of Jeff Hinkley, investigator for the British Horseracing Authority. But this time readers, and Hinkley, get to explore a different racing scene, as he’s seconded to the United States to ferret out a mole in the federal anti-corruption in sports agency (FACSA). But then a bust goes bad, a man’s left dead, and three favorites for the Kentucky Derby are scratched on the morning of the race due to a rare sickness.
With plenty of suspicion swirling, and not knowing who he can trust among the federal agents he's meant to be working with, Hinkley returns to his undercover roots as a groom at Belmont Park.
Triple Crown is an engaging thriller that bursts out of the gate and maintains a good pace throughout. Francis pulls back the curtain on American horse racing, giving readers a peek into what goes into getting a thoroughbred ready for the starting gate, as well as the stark differences between racing, and law enforcement, either side of the Atlantic. There are occasional info-dumps, but the writing is so smooth and the early hook set well enough that they add flavor rather than reining in the story.
There really aren't enough crime novels set in the sports world, which can provide a diverse array of fascinating settings. I enjoyed this one, so I'll certainly be back for more from Felix Francis.
Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, is a judge of the McIlvanney Prize, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson