Have you heard of Stephen Dobyns yet? Dobyns writes suspense/mystery novels, three of them dealing with horse racing at Saratoga. Dobyns is so good at his trade that Dick Francis, the acknowledged master of this specialized milieu, may be in trouble.
Dobyns's protagonist is Charlie Bradshaw. Interestingly, like Francis's principal characters, Bradshaw is no James Bond supersleuth or Sam Spade tough guy; neither is he some amusing bungler who stumbles to solutions ahead of the cops. You may well be tired of all those types. Bradshaw is a bit-better-than-good guy who makes logical things happen by trying to do the right thing. When we first meet him—in Saratoga Long-shot—he is a sergeant in the Saratoga police department who has gone down to New York City, on his own, to check on the suspect activities of a young man whom he has already saved from prison out of affection for his mother. In a semi-respectable bar he is casing, Bradshaw encounters a character named Driscoll; it turns out that he would like to get Driscoll talking without revealing why. The following is a fair sample of how Bradshaw operates and how Dobyns thinks and writes:
"Whenever Charlie talked to someone, he tried to discover the person he was expected to be. When he thought he knew, he would begin assuming that personality, thereby fulfilling his companion's expectations. Usually this meant changing small mannerisms. Driscoll, for instance, seemed to think him a kind of bumpkin; and in response Charlie began to talk in a nasal drawl, slouch on his stool and wave his hands a lot. It often happened that in thinking him transparent, people became more transparent themselves." Bradshaw handles his mission with mixed results, which is also what happens in Dobyns's next book, Saratoga Swimmer. The owner of one of the Spa's biggest racing stables is ingeniously murdered while swimming laps at the local Y. Bradshaw has left the police department, is the stable's chief of security and takes this as license to investigate. The climactic scenes in both books, while perfectly logical, are a bit theatrical.
In his latest adventure, Saratoga Headhunter (Viking, $13.95; the first two were published by Atheneum), Bradshaw has three murders, race fixing and apparent mob machinations on his hands. And he continues an involuntarily chaste relationship with a strong-minded barmaid that was begun in the previous book. As before, the investigations are enhanced by Dobyns's sharp observations, entertaining asides and astute interpositions. These, too, seem to flow logically from the author of several volumes of prize-winning poetry and two other novels. By all means, get to know him; it's a good bet we'll all be hearing a lot more from Stephen Dobyns.