In 1953-54 Dick Francis was champion National Hunt Jockey in the United Kingdom. After retiring from racing he became an author. Dead Cert was his first novel, published in 1962. The hero of the story, Alan York, is an amateur jockey. The action starts when Alan sees his friend, a top jockey, fall during a race. Alan discovers that the fall wasn’t an accident. When his friend dies Alan reports what he knows to the local police. After some initial scepticism, an inspector takes on the task of finding out who would want to harm Alan’s friend and why.
Dead Cert is quite an intricate story for a comparatively short novel, with feuding taxi firms and unscrupulous jockeys thrown into the mix. The motive for the attack on Alan’s friend is money, as it so often is. The man behind the crime is unexpected, there’s a bit of romance for people who like that sort of thing, and the ending is wholly satisfactory. Where Dead Cert really shines, though, is the passages set on the race course. Authors are often advised: “Write about what you know.” Dick Francis did that for all his novels, giving each of them a connection to the world of horse racing. The descriptions of the sounds, smells and feel of the race, the workings of a race course and the relationships between the various people involved in racing are so intimate that you could almost be there.
Dead Cert was adapted as a film, but I don’t recommend it. I saw it once, many years ago. The only similarity to the novel is the names of some of the characters. The storyline is completely different. Stick with the book. It’s much more enjoyable.