John McEvoy’s characters are people who live and/or work in the world of American horseracing. As the late Dick Francis, a former jockey, mined the world of British steeplechase racing for his mysteries, Mr. McEvoy takes advantage of his own rich knowledge of betting and racing in America – a knowledge born of 33 years as writer and editor of Racing Form Daily – for his. Mr. McEvoy’s fourth mystery, “The Significant Seven,” published by Poison Pen Press on April 1, 2010, brings back the acerbic Jack Doyle of his first novel, “Blind Switch,” published in 2004.
In this book, former boxer and failed advertising executive Jack Doyle is cajoled by FBI acquaintances into going undercover to help expose the perpetrators of a series of fixed races. Favored horses are being “sponged,” that is, pieces of sponge are inserted a nasal cavity, allowing less oxygen than normal into the horses’ lungs, making them too slow to win. Doyle is inadvertently in place to solve another series of crimes: the murders, one by one, of a group of old college buddies – the “Significant Seven” – who some years before had together won enough on a single horse race to buy their own racehorses and win even more. When the daughter of one of the men, too, is in danger, Doyle feels he must protect her.
The book is an entertaining read, with perhaps a little more on the subject of betting than this numbers-challenged writer could take in. Jack Doyle has his good and bad points as a hero; his somewhat abrasive personality may be off-putting to some. His less-than-sterling character is interesting, however, and ultimately engaging, and allows the author some fresh unpredictability in Doyle’s decisions and actions, as well as in those of characters who interact with him. While Dick Francis’s writing is smoother, and sometimes more accessible to a reader unversed in the background of the subject, Mr. McEvoy’s stories are not so formulaic. There are unexpected twists and turns, and one learns something, too, along the way.
Mr. McEvoy’s interest in racing began in his childhood years in Kenosha, Wis. When he was a kid, he says, his mother was avid about racing, as were her sisters. He remembers the “bookies who used to hang out downstairs in the local pool hall.” His father, district attorney for Kenosha, was not so interested, but went along with the crowd – which in this family’s case meant packing everyone up in the car and driving down to Old Washington Park in Homewood for a day at the races. “It took three hours each way on Highway 41,” Mr. McEvoy says emphatically.
Mr. McEvoy earned an M.A. in English and taught for three years. He enjoyed it but, having been editor of his high school and college newspapers, he returned to journalism, first at the Kenosha News, then as police reporter for the Milwaukee Journal and finally reporter and columnist for the Daily Racing Form, the foremost racing daily newspaper in the country.
He and his wife, Judy, also from Kenosha, first moved to Des Plaines and then here to Evanston. Their children, Julia, Michael and Sarah, attended Dewey, Nichols and ETHS.
In Evanston, Mr. McEvoy became the Midwest editor for the DRF. Ms. McEvoy, a realtor, is a founding partner of Prairie Shore Properties. She knows racing through her husband’s job – “and through my books,” he says. The first of these was “Great Horse Racing Mysteries,” published in 2000 by Eclipse Press, and which won a Benjamin Franklin Award in 2001. Their daughter Julia, who worked for WBEZ until recently, knows horses, too. She co-wrote with her father (Mr. McEvoy says it was his idea) “Women in Racing: In Their Own Words,” based on a series of interviews the two undertook, and published in 2001. Mr. McEvoy says, “Thirty years ago there were no women on the backstretch except maybe those running the kitchen. Now, 40 percent of workers are women [including] grooms, jockeys …”
Mr. McEvoy “had always wanted to write a novel,” he says. When first the Daily Racing Form downsized, then shrank again, “the loss of my job,” says Mr. McEvoy with a smile, “accelerated my chance to write.” Barbara Peters of Poison Pen Press liked the manuscript of his first novel, “Blind Switch” and took the author on. “She knows about racing,” Mr. McEvoy says. All four of his mysteries are with Poison Pen, two featuring Doyle and two with other protagonists. The author won his second Benjamin Franklin mystery award in 2007 for “Riders Down.”
Mr. McEvoy is now working on a third Jack Doyle racing mystery. To find out when to race to the bookstore, and find out more about John McEvoy and his books, check his website, http://www.johnmcevoyauthor.com/index.html. The books are available in bookstores and on Amazon. “The Significant Seven” and “Close Call” are also available as audiobooks.
Evanston Rhythms & Books, a new feature of the Evanston RoundTable, will showcase the literary and musical talent of Evanston residents. Evanston authors and musicians with new releases should contact Ms. Wainwright at firstname.lastname@example.org with “ATTN Natalie Wainwright” in the subject area.