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Not surprisingly, many of the narrators in Dick Francis’s novels are jockeys or former jockeys. Many of them are dreading the day when they will have to retire from racing; others (e.g. Sid Halley and Randall Drew) are unable to race due to circumstances beyond their control and are bitter about it.

Philip Nore, on the other hand, was feeling dissatisfied with his job after racing for 10 years. The book opens with him picking himself up after a fall:

“At the return of breath and energy I stood wearily up and thought with intensity that this was a damn silly way for a grown man to be spending his life.

The thought itself was a jolt.....”

As the realization grew that he would not be unhappy to leave racing, other people started taking an interest in his photographs. Philip was astonished to find people willing to pay for what he had considered no more than a hobby.

One of the race world’s leading photographers, George Millace, had just been killed in a car crash, and Philip was given one of Millace’s assignments.

But Millace was not a popular person, a "pitiless photographer of moments all jockeys preferred to ignore", who got "snide sneering pleasure ... from delivering to owners the irrefutable evidence of their jockeys’ failings".

While his widow was away at the funeral, their house was burgled; the following day Millace’s widow was beaten up by two men wanting to know where the (non-existent) safe was; two days later, while Mrs. Millace was in hospital, her house was burned down.

Philip suddenly found himself with two very different puzzles to solve: his grandmother, whom he had never before met, asked him to find his half-sister whose very existence was a surprise to him; and why had Millace kept a box of rubbish, spoiled prints and pieces of film?

During the course of answering these questions, Philip was beaten up twice, the first time not seriously, the second almost to death, and an acquaintance was almost killed by gas intended for Nore.