Dreadfully impatient as I am, and also dreadfully slow, I couldn't even wait to finish my last book before I pulled another novel from my box-set to read. This one was called "Tip-off". All I expected was some sort of mystery, and apart from that, after the last two books being of a very diverse nature, I knew it could be anything. I think it is some I widen my reading and become more open minded, so whatever it was about I knew I had to give it a chance, even if I hated it at first.
Simon is a former insurance broker, who now runs a security firm with his partner, hard-minded Matt. He also rides horses in his spare time, and although he is hopeless at it, he perseveres against everyone else's advice in the hope that he will one day improve enough to be a competitive racer. He is strongly attracted to Emma, the daughter of the wealthy but arrogant and disapproving man known as Lord Tintern. Emma walks all over him but he doesn't seem to see it that way. Although Lord Tintern does not want Simon involved with his daughter, he does have an interest in him professionally. In fact, he wants his company - him and Matt more specifically, to investigate Toby Brown, a man who gives tips on horses, and seems to have been tipping successfully for some time without failure. He wants to know how he does it, and more importantly, to put a stop to it and make sure it doesn't happen again. Will Simon be able to win a horse race? Will he and Emma become an item? Will they discover the secret to Toby Brown's success?
The mystery element of the book was undoubtedly there, and I could not deny that it was interesting, to some extent. There are hints along the way at various directions the story might take but I find it really hard to use the little information available to come up with any of my own ideas about what was happening. As the story starts to pull together it makes more sense, but the revelations are not really clever and did not impress me. I thought there might be something really smart behind Tony's predictions or other odd things that occur but actuallyI felt a little cheated out of that bit in most mystery thrillers we look forward to. I can't say much without giving something away, but it is fair to say that you will not be raising your eyebrows at the truth here!
There is a lot going on in this story, but it seems to all move terribly slowly. Simon admits himself to struggling to make progress in his investigations, but I too felt that the story as a whole was struggling to progress. By a third in, I expected to have some idea of the way the story was going and for something major to have happened. By this point there was still just nothing major or dramatic enough happening and I started to wonder if I wouldn't be better off reading the journal of a pylon spotter. Simon's personal affairs are quite mundane and never develop into more as you might hope. I had this sense of expectation that continued even after halfway through the book, but as events build up they simply lead to ordinary conclusions that barely link up. Frankly it is all quite a disappointment.
None of the characters were really likeable; not even Simon himself. There's nothing wrong with having a few repulsive characters or even a lead character that is barely likeable, but when there is nothing to counter this, it just becomes a drag. This is not the sort of book that can get away with it, either, as it is not exactly in the dark and gloomy category of the crime/thriller genre. So there's Simon, who talks as if he is observing himself and spends most of the time running to Emma each time she clicks her fingers, like a love-sick puppy. Toby Brown seems to regard Simon as a friend, and yet Simon is willingly investigating him and is dismissive when Toby turns to him for support. It shows just how selfish and weak he can be. Toby himself is not entirely innocent, though it seems that for him it is more out of ignorance than self-indulgence. He is irritatingly weak and miserable, yet clearly not afraid to take advantage of whatever secret ability or method he has to milk the betting industry and potentially bring the country into an economic crisis. Then there is Simon's partner, a classic macho-man who sees no value in human relationships other than what people can do for him. Basically it seems as though this book is based on a long string of people connected by non-mutual feelings for the next person in the line! I half expected it all to fall apart like dominoes!
Writing style, structure and language
The story is written in the first person, and I think this is the one of the things that really fails the book. There is nothing wrong with writing in the first person, but it has to be done in the right way, and I have noticed that not all authors can pull it off. In this book it is as if it were originally written in the third person, as a completely objective observer with no appreciation of any hidden knowledge or opinions of any of the characters, then someone has done a "find and replace" with all the terms that made Simon a third person, thereby making him narrator. This simply does not work, and left me feeling quite frustrated.
There was something very odd about the way Simon talks about his own actions. It is all a bit distant and cold, with no feeling or opinion on relationships with other characters. Admittedly it is not too difficult to picture when everything is described with precision, but at times I would rather work out for myself such minor details and have more to empathise with.
Admittedly this book is a very easy read, and had it been more interesting, I probably would have raced through the pages. Perhaps a little too fast, even. However, I found it a bit too much of a chore to read and so was that much more easily distracted. Perhaps on a long train journey or plane journey in silence, I could handle reading this better, but I'm not sure I would want to. The book is not long and the chapters are easily manageable, so yes, it is readable, at least.
To be honest, I would never have read this book had it not been in my boxset, and I cannot really recommend it. If you have an interest in horses, and more specifically racing, and like crime novels, it might just be worth a go. Otherwise it is just a bit too niche and lacking in excitement. There are plenty of far better books out there to spend time reading and unless you whizz through a book within a couple of days, you might feel a lot of time is wasted reading something like this. I'm not even sure it would be that great to race-horse enthusiast. To the general reader, not recommended.