Saturday, November 7, 2009

Playing Dead

Rory McCormac
I’m a shameless celebrity sycophant, so when I spotted Playing Dead with a glowing endorsement on its front cover by Tony McCoy, the Ulster jump jockey – ‘A fantastic read. Odds on to be a winner’ I was persuaded to buy it.
And anyway, vets and horses, and horsey vets have a dazzling effect on me, similar to the effect a man in uniform has on most normal women. I’ve read every Dick Francis ever written – (these are horse racing novels), and all of James Herriot too (he’s the veterinary bit).
Frank Samson is a young, hunky vet. He is also independently minded and having briefly worked in a large hierarchical practice, he now prefers to go it alone – he works as a locum vet.
He’s offered a two month posting in Connemara in the West of Ireland while the regular vet is in America. The regular vet has a regular practice, but for one famous customer – Catamaran, a stallion who is standing at stud in the catchment area of the veterinary practice. Catamaran, who was never beaten, is owned by a wealthy syndicate and is worth twenty five million pounds. Frank’s not a racing man, but he’s a shameless celebrity sycophant (just like myself) – and the second day on the job he swings past the stud farm to take some photos of the horse, to show off and boast about at horsey dinner parties…
Later that day, while he’s out on his rounds, he receives a distress call from the owner of the Stud – there has been a terrible accident, Catamaran has escaped from his loose box and bolted over the edge of a cliff. Frank rushes to the scene –the horse is alive, but only just; two legs are broken; he’s in ugly shock. The only thing Frank can do is put him out of his misery, by shooting him between the eyes with the owner’s shot gun.
Not the most auspicious start to Frank’s two months in Connemara!
After Catamaran’s unfortunate death things start to hot up for Frank. First his house is broken into then he’s lured on a bogus call in the middle of the night to an isolated location where he’s beaten up, kidnapped and held hostage.
The kidnapper is nervous and non violent. He’s wearing dark glasses and a balaclava to disguise his identity. He says all he wants are the photographs Frank took of Catamaran, the morning of the day he died. Frank is immediately suspicious as to why such innocent photographs could possibly be of such value and he does not offer them up even though they’re in his Landrover. Instead he determines to escape from the farmhouse and discover for himself what is so special about them…
While Frank is investigating the mystery of the photographs I learnt loads about bloodstock and horse racing. I especially learnt that horses can be identified by their whorls – these are hair swirls on the forehead and other parts of the body. Two horses can look identical, in size and shape and colour, but just like fingerprints in humans they will never have the same whorls.
Who says learning cannot be fun?
Rory McCormac is the nom de plume of real life vet, Maurice O’Scanaill who lives with his wife in Connemara. Maurice has had a varied career, in Ireland, Malta and Oman where he was Head Veterinarian at the Stud (Breeding) section of The Royal Stables, and Veterinary Advisor to various wildlife programs initiated by Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos ibn Said.
So if there was ever a man fit to write convincingly about being a vet, this is the man to do it.
VERDICT: Well done to Hawk Hill Publishing for resurrecting such a likeable hero and such fast paced, enjoyable thriller.

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