David Cleveland is an official of the Racecourse Committee, sent to investigate the disappearance of English jockey Bob Sherman, along with 16,000 kroner, from an Oslo racecourse. The case seems simple enough at first, and David has contacts in Norway, which helps. He begins with his friend Arne Kristiansen - always somewhat paranoid, Arne insists they speak in a boat on the fjord to avoid anyone overhearing their conversation. It's a decision that proves life-threatening when their dinghy is capsized by an out of control speedboat - Arne vanishes into the icy autumn water, and David barely escapes with his life. When he goes to inform Arne's wife of his disappearance, David is overjoyed to find Arne safe and in the process of reporting him missing.
That may have been an accident, but the deeper David digs the more violent his life becomes. It's soon clear that Bob did not, as has been proposed, take advantage of a breach in security to opportunistically steal the race takings but has, in all likelihood, been murdered. But why, and by whom, remain a mystery.
I am in many ways glad I only came to Francis now, as I have the joy of discovering his writing while an extensive backlist is available. Though not quite as perfect as the great Bagley, I am reminded of him often when reading Francis, and enjoy these works almost as much.
Slay-Ride is a little dated, both in tech and attitude, but for the most part stands up well for a book some 35 years old. The pace is brisk, the plot involving, and the reveal of the murderer is both surprising and makes a few plot points click into place in retrospect, which is always satisfying. I think Francis' writing has developed in the interim, as one would hope, so that his more recent novels are a little denser, but all in all I quite enjoyed this. - Alex