Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Book Review: Bullet Work by Steve O'Brien

Bullet Work by Steve O’Brien (2011, A&N Publishing) is set on the backside of Fairfax Park, a fictional track in northern Virginia but could just as easily been on the backside of your local racetrack. We all know of characters on the backside the way O’Brien has painted them. Some may be a bit over the top, but it helps drive their edge home to the folks that may not be as familiar with the backside as O’Brien is. The bottom line is that to the folks that have chosen to live this lifestyle, the horses are their lives and are what comes first – and that comes through in Bullet Work.

All is well in the racing world at Fairfax Park until horses start dying and mysterious notes appear in the trainers’ mailboxes advising them that ‘protection’ is available – for a price. Owner Dan Morgan may finally have his “Home Run Horse”, a filly that could take him to the heights of the game as an owner, but his trainer, Jake Gilmore, stubbornly refuses to pay the extortion money until the filly is targeted. Dan springs into action in an unlikely partnership with a horse whispering young groom who’s much more than what he seems. The trainers, owners, backstretch workers and gamblers are colorful and to anyone that has spent time on a racetrack, very familiar. You don’t have to have had a horse at the racetrack to enjoy this story and where it takes you, though.

There are twists and turns through the story as any good mystery should have. I cared about Dan and what happened to him, which to me is always the hallmark of a good read. Even unlikeable characters can be written in a way that makes you care about the outcome of their stories and Dan is far from unlikeable. The action is well paced and the main storyline keeps you guessing. Not all ends happily, but the end is right and you can feel good about having spent the time to read it.

The only downside to me is that some of the peripheral characters appear to be caught in various stages of development, particularly Dan’s love interest, Beth. It could very well be that I wanted more for the two of them but the budding romance gets pushed to the side almost as soon as it gets started. The upside: maybe there are more “Dan Morgan” books in our future that will develop their racetrack romance?

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