Forfeit, by Dick Francis, tells the story of sports writer James Tyrone beginning when a drunken colleague, Bert Checkov, warns him not to sell his column. Making vague allusions to blackmail and bribery, the man is so drunk that he's all but incoherent and then goes his own way. Chalking it up to the booze, Tyrone leaves his friend only to learn minutes later that the man has just fallen out of a window and died. A short while later, we learn that Checkov has been heavily touting a large number of horses that end up getting scratched from their races shortly before post time. This is the tip of the iceberg that leads Tyrone into conflict with bookmakers who will stop at nothing to continue a scheme that has already netted them a small fortune.
Tyrone is a remarkably strong character who deals with a home life that could only be called difficult, an editor who doesn't mind risking his life to get a story, and a gang of thugs that don't mind dishing out a beating or even murder to get what they want. He is not perfect, but he does have a good heart and readers can't help but root for him. Most of the characters are interesting and portrayed uniquely enough that they remain distinct and not just cardboard cutouts put in place to fill their assigned roles. The story builds momentum as it goes. In the beginning, I found it mildly interesting but as it progressed it became a real page-turner.
This is the first novel by Dick Francis that I have read but he has been one of the most respected mystery writers for many decades. His writing style is very clear and crisp, easy to read and understand. Some English novelists use language that can make it hard for Americans to follow but I didn't find that to be the case here. I am not particularly interested in horses or horse racing but I do like good stories with interesting characters and there was a healthy dose of that in Forfeit. After reading this book, I'll be ordering more Dick Francis novels soon.