Plot or Premise
An arrogant horse-owner in England joins The Great Transcontinental Mystery Race Train across Canada, with the train stopping at several sites along the way for horseraces, with an actors troupe on the train posing as real passengers.
What I Liked
Francis is a master at moving players around in the story and having them interact in interesting ways. His descriptive prose, and his keep-it-simple style, make it easy to both imagine the scene and understand the characters. The sports element is there, as it is in all of Francis’ books, but he again shows his mastery in leaving it as the backdrop against all the other characters’ interactions.
What I Didn’t Like
The overall feel of the book is that similar to a play or film with an ensemble cast — no one is really well done, but most are sufficiently interesting to hold our attention for awhile. Some characters are still left hiding in the background as mere caricatures. As for the villain and the protagonist, both needed to be better developed, and I never felt the villain was particularly evil nor the protagonist particularly interesting — too much on actions and not enough of his own thoughts to reveal his true character. Unfortunately, I also figured out the plot fairly early, although there was one character at the end who was slightly different than expected. I also saw three or four points in the story where Francis could have easily taken the reader down a darker or more interesting path, yet the opportunities were left abandoned alongside the tracks in the story.