Odds Against is the first of four novels to feature Sid Halley, champion steeplechase jockey turned investigator. (The others are Whip Hand (1979), Come to Grief (1995) and Under Orders (2006).) It is Francis’s first novel in which the protagonist is a professional investigator, although Sid is only just warming to the job.
Forced to give up steeplechasing after a racing accident left him with a mangled and useless left hand, Halley was invited to join Hunt Radnor Associates, a private investigation firm with a special interest in racing matters.
“Jobs are quite often given in that way to top jockeys when they retire. No one expects them to do much, it’s just their name that’s useful for a while. When their news value has gone, they get the sack.”
For two years, he did little or nothing at the agency — except that, without realizing it, he learned the trade.
On the first page, Halley wakes up in a private room in a hospital
“for which I got a whacking great bill a few days later”), having
been shot in the abdomen in a trap-gone-wrong. After leaving
hosptial, he convalesces at his father-in-law’s house, where he is
inveigled into trying to save a racecourse from being taken over and
sold to developers. It becomes clear that the run of bad luck at
Seabury racecourse is not accidental. Halley works to prevent
further sabotage, and keep the racecourse solvent.
The book is about Halley’s awakening from two years of apathy and
finding that he is
“someone who’s been to the top of one profession
and has the time in years to get to the top of another.” He finds an
enthusiasm for the work, loses what’s left of his left hand, and
ends up in hospital again.
Although there is a murder near the beginning of the book, this isn’t a ’whodunit’. The petty crook who shot Halley is found shot to death. Halley supplies the evidence to have the murderer charged, but only because the investigation during which he (Halley) was shot was linked to the attempted takeover of the Seabury racecourse.