John Punter is a professional gambler and private investigator, estranged son of one of Australia’s top horse racing trainers. He once wanted to be a jockey himself, but his size got in the way. He makes his living at the racetrack betting, winning enough to keep him going. His father regards him as a pariah, feeding off gambling rather than doing the honest work of training.
Punter numbers bookmakers, trainers, jockeys, and journalists amongst his friends. He has already had some success in finding out ‘unexplained’ occurrences both on and off the track such as tracking down a drug syndicate, nailing an insurance scam, and supplying information for stewards, and assisting racecourse detectives.
And so it is to John Punter that Big Oakie White, a well known Victorian bookmaker, turns when his daughter is kidnapped. Oakie doesn’t want to go to the police because of what happened to a fellow bookie’s wife, but now his daughter Michelle’s ear has been delivered to him, earring still attached. Oakie wants Punter to deliver the ransom money. The kidnappers lead Punter a merry dance, but he successfully rescues Michelle, although an attempt to follow the kidnappers with a tracking device fails. Punter has a pretty good idea of who the kidnappers are though, and tracking them down becomes an ongoing thread in PUNTER’S TURF.
Kate is a crime reporter with The Age, and an avid racegoer. Her request to Punter to investigate the form of a horse she is thinking of raising a syndicate of friends for begins the second major thread in PUNTER’S TURF. The horse unexpectedly stops running on its first syndicate outing. By that time Punter has joined the syndicate himself so his interest is also personal.
Some of the reviews of PUNTER’S TURF are claiming that Peter Klein is Australia’s answer to Dick Francis. Well, I don’t think he is yet, but he could be. If you enjoy reading Dick (partnered recently by Felix) Francis, then I think you’ll enjoy PUNTER’S TURF. Klein has a bit of work to do with dialogue, I thought some of the minor characters were a bit two-dimensional, and one of the elements of the ending a bit soppy and predictable, but the novel has a good Australian flavour to it, a feeling of knowledge and authority, and I’ll look for another.
My rating: 4.3
Peter Klein made an appearance at this year’s Melbourne Writers’ Festival, and his bio. reads
“Peter Klein has been involved in racing for over thirty years as a strapper, trainer and punter and has seen all the highs and lows of the racing game. He’s the son of well known and much loved Australian children’s author Robin Klein.
At sixteen he left home to work for some of Australia’s top trainers such as Bart Cummings, Geoff Murphy and the legendary T J Smith. During his stable hand days he was a one-time strapper of champion galloper Kingston Town and is still actively involved in racing, working in the media in his role as racing manager for Australian Associated Press.“
Klein already has a biography published: A STRAPPER’S TALE, and PUNTER’S TURF is his second novel. The first was called PUNTER’S LUCK. Interestingly, I didn’t feel like I had missed out on much by reading the books out of order.