Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Homicide Handicap

Florida resident Bob McKnight authored 11 short novels published as Ace Doubles between 1957 and 1963. He also wrote a bunch of non-fiction books on horse race handicapping and didn’t forge into fiction until the ripe old age of 51. Homicide Handicap was his last Ace novel from 1963.

Sox Bradley is a thoroughbred racehorse trainer and our narrator in this 100-page conventional mystery. His wealthy ex-wife, Carla, owns a bunch of racehorses, and Sox still works for her despite the marriage being long over. When Carla’s dead body is found stashed away at her Florida mansion, the cops naturally question Sox for the murder.

Yes, this is another one of those paperbacks where the falsely-accused protagonist needs to solve a murder to save his own hide, and it’s a pretty enjoyable iteration of this trope. Sox is a decent main character despite a lack of charisma, and the setting in the world of thoroughbred horse training was an interesting glimpse behind the curtain of a sports subculture. I learned a thing or two along the way that will make me a hit at cocktail parties when the topic of horse racing arises.

There’s a sweet girl interested in Sox and a handful of likely suspects with motive and opportunity. There’s not much action other than a couple of peripheral murders that narrows the field of suspects. You’ll see the solution coming from a furlong away, but it will only serve to make you feel smart in the final chapter when your suspicions are confirmed.

To be clear, Homicide Handicap isn’t a mystery masterpiece, but it was an enjoyable diversion about as good as a typical long-story from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. The novel has never been reprinted, but many Ace Double collectors probably have a copy that’s been sitting on their shelves for decades. The other side of the paperback is The Dead and the Deadly by Louis Trimble. It’s a good pairing as both authors knew how to execute a formulaic mystery.

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