April 15, 1985 12:00 PM

by Dick Francis

Francis’ familiar, slick formula—horse racing-cum-murder—rides again. The subplot this time involves booze. Tony Beach is a young wine-tasting expert who owns a wine and spirits shop in a small town outside London. His beloved wife has died six months earlier. Beach’s parents were both ardent horse people, and his choice of a livelihood was a disappointment to them. Still, he knows a lot about horses and is on hand at a party given in a stable owner’s tent when a heavy trailer gets loose and crashes into the tent, killing—among others—a wealthy sheik and the owner of a dinner club. The police recruit Beach to help them find drinking places where inferior spirits are being passed off as something much better. Another man, who works for a firm that does industrial detective work, enlists Beach’s help too. Three giant tankers filled with Scotch have been stolen. The answers to these mysteries—including a grisly murder, of course—are found at the track, where Francis once again provides a lyrical description of an exciting race. He also includes painstaking details on how tasting is done, how Scotch is made, how wine is created and bottled and how crooks can cheat both customers and revenue agents. In Francis’ hands such nitty-gritty adds up to great fun. The only missing ingredient in Proof is romance. Tony Beach won’t be ready for that kind of thing until he’s grieved for another 18 months or so. Perhaps around then the author will give this winning hero another book—and a pretty woman to go along with it. (Putnam, $16.95)

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