Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review: Bullet Work by Steve O'Brien

Review by Jaden Terrell

Bullet Work
by Steve O'Brien takes place in the world of horse racing. Much of the novel revolves around the inner workings of the "backside," the place where the owners, trainers, vets, and jockeys work behind the scenes to make the racing industry profitable. In this fiercely competitive environment, where fortunes and futures are at at stake, trainers and jockeys scrabble for every advantage they can get. But now someone has gone too far. With the big race approaching, a racehorse is killed, another crippled so badly he must be put down, and a third is missing.

While the backside reels with the shock of the attacks, the motive soon becomes clear. Extortion. The threat is implicit. Pay up or more horses will die.

Dan Morgan has just acquired the horse of his dreams, a brilliant two-year-old filly on whom all his hopes hang. With the filly in the extortionist's cross-hairs, Dan knows he must act to save his horse and his future. Along the way, he befriends a socially awkward young man, AJ, who has an almost mystical way with the horses. AJ has a secret that, when revealed, could help Dan catch a killer--or turn him and his young friend into targets.

O'Brien has obviously done his research, and his thorough knowledge of the racing world adds an extra layer of interest to the book. The behind-the-scenes glimpse into the horse racing world was fascinating. Although there are a few rough spots, the writing is competent and the premise intriguing. The characters are nicely fleshed out, and the plot was well constructed. As an animal lover, I found it difficult to read about the brutality inflicted on the horses, but the violence was integral to the plot, and the author handled it well.

Here is a sample from the book:

Kyle leaned forward and hooked his toes into that familiar position around the stirrup. He wrapped horse hair from the mane around hid index finger and prepared for the break. He would time it perfectly to be on his toes, leaning over his horse's neck. The acceleration would balance him, and his forward position would keep him from falling back and yanking the reins. Men who worked as gate hands were scrambling in and out of the starting gate.

"Two out."

More shifting and movement could be heard behind him. One gate hand was standing on the foot ledge inside the stall with Kyle and Aly Dancer. He held the horse's bridle and unwrapped the leather strap that had run through the bridle to lead the horse into the starting gate stall. On the break he would release the horse, hopefully in a straight course.

"One out."

The clanging of the stalls slamming shut told him they were all in. Jack Meeks shouted, "No, no, no."

This was an enjoyable mystery, and I look forward to reading more from this writer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was given a copy of this book by publicist Rebecca Brown of Cadence Marketing in return for an unbiased review.

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