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Chicago Lit: Q& A with Evanston horse racing author John McEvoy

John McEvoy

John McEvoy

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Local Appearances

John McEvoy will discuss and sign copies of Photo Finish at:

• 6:30 p.m. May 30 at the
Book Stall at Chestnut Court, 811 Elm, Winnetka

• 2 p.m. June 2 at Centuries & Sleuths, 7419 W. Madison,
Forest Park

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Updated: July 3, 2012 9:15AM

It’s spring, the time of year when most Americans become horse-racing fans, if only for the two minutes it takes to run the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, or perhaps for a few weeks longer if a viable Triple Crown candidate emerges.

Just in time to take advantage of this annual uptick in interest in following the ponies comes Photo Finish, (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95), the fourth installment in Evanston author John McEvoy’s racetrack thriller series featuring tough guy Jack Doyle.

This time around, Doyle is working as a jockey’s agent for a talented young female rider from Ireland when all hell breaks loose at a fictitious Midwest track that has more than a passing resemblance to a certain glitzy Chicago area racing venue.

Local references abound as a dizzying tale of death threats, drugged horses and danger unspools.

McEvoy spoke recently about the evolution of his series and the glamorous life of a racing expert.

Q. In Photo Finish, we seem to see a softer, nicer Jack Doyle. Is he evolving?

A. He is. He’s getting a little bit less abrasive. But he’s still as persistent as always, which I think is important for any protagonist.

Q. And in this book you talk about drugs, about misrepresenting ownership of horses, race fixing . . . do you sometimes feel like an “anti-ambassador” for racing ?

A. Well, I know that [another turf writer] thinks . . . I’m Mr. Gloom. He says, “Why aren’t people writing books that are positive about racing?” Well, then nobody would read them. And I think the issues that I deal with are worth dealing with. What I’m trying to do is perhaps expose some of these things so that they can be prevented.

Q. Do you think that between you and Dick Francis, you’ve exhausted every angle in the horse-racing thriller genre, or is there more to be said?

A. We haven’t exhausted it yet. I’ve got some ideas for maybe one more. And I think I’ve got some different plot elements. I’m going to do it a little differently. I’m going to make it more of a mystery. These books have been primarily thrillers — where you know who the villains are. The thrill is how the protagonist is going to discover them. And this one that I’m thinking about, I’m going to have two villains whose identities are not revealed until the end. And again it’ll be a racetrack setting with Jack Doyle involved.

Q. What are the archetypes of the racing world?

A. Racing has always fascinated me, because I think it’s a great microcosm. You’ve got these very wealthy people that own horses, and then you’ve got this middle class — let’s say the trainers and the jockeys — who are struggling to retain their middle-class status, and then you’ve got these lowly grooms and hotwalkers who are making maybe $300 a week. To me that was one of the things that fascinated me from the beginning when I first got into racing . . . the very disparate elements that are involved in this one thing.

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