Somewhat in the tradition of Dick Francis, Steve O’Brien has put together a remarkable story set in the background of the horse racing community. When prime horses begin to die or disappear, one trainer goes the distance to find the culprits. The background information uncovers the reasoning behind the nefarious dealings; it is a swindle to milk the trainers or their owners of money. The money required is twenty dollars a head on the horses to keep them safe. While on the surface it does not seem enough to put the beautiful beasts at risk, it is nevertheless a clever ploy at protection.
Many trainers understand the problem is only the tip of the iceberg, and that to give in could only create further blackmail and demands. Dan Morgan takes it personal when his horses and team become targeted. He begins his own investigation.
Watching the denizens of the racing world, those that remain in the background, he discovers a young man, a boy really, one that seems to stand out. While looking for information and background on the people from the track, he cannot help but notice that there is something different about this youngster. Constantly bullied he remains unhurried and calm that is until it comes to the horses. Terror and pain are common in the racing scene for the animals, but A.J. Kaine appears to have the ability of “horse-whispering.” Yet it is more, from Dan’s perspective it appears that Kaine is able to siphon the stress and pain from the horse to himself. He is intrigued and makes every attempt to become A.J.’s friend. That is something A.J. is not comfortable with, but Dan perseveres, and is able to gain his trust.
The killings and the insertion of A.J. into the very darkness of the repugnant deeds put Dan in the middle of a roller coaster ride of emotions. As everything he owns and holds dear seem to attract the men holding the cards in this dangerous game, he must look to himself and his reliance on A.J. to find the answers. Will he succeed? Can he make a difference? Time is running out, already trainers are pulling their horses ready to give up hope.
In Bullet Work, by Steve O’Brien, we see the back stages of the horse racing community. It is about the trainers and crews that work the horses, and do the work not seen by the people attending the events. It is a hard but rewarding life full of dangers. O’Brien’s descriptions put you in the paddocks and on the track, making you feel the heat and sweat. The depictions of the situations are brutal, with an eye at realism.
Through it, all you get to know the characters, they are hardworking and gregarious. The horses are their love and they take pride in their jobs. Where winning is everything, it is sometimes a thankless task. However, the work and pride goes on.
A.J. is an anomaly, a lonely young man, except for the horses. They mean everything to him. He has a form of autism, and is incapable of socializing, so is often the butt of jokes and often abused.
This is a wonderful tale, full of stories of the people behind the scenes. It is a mystery and suspense, with a bit of paranormal overtones. People are often interested in the “horse-whispering” phenomena and Steve O’Brien brings it to another level in Bullet Work.
I would recommend this book for reading groups and book clubs. It is interesting and fast paced with plenty of discussion fodder. I would consider it a must read for the Dick Francis fans, just another direction for the aficionados of the horse racing field with is mysteries and suspense, but it is also a wonderful addition to the paranormal scene. This book is a must have for any library.