Written by CS Boag — The Case of the Horses for Corpses is the third in CS Boag’s Mister Rainbow series, a collection about a classic hardboiled PI living in modern day Sydney. Mister Rainbow (or Rain for short) is a down-and-out private eye in a sharp suit, a man with no identity and no luck, who somehow always gets the dame in the end.
A series of deaths among the homeless around Sydney’s Central Station is the last thing on Rainbow’s mind; he has a date to keep with his daughter Imogene, a jog to finish, and a mysterious woman in a leopard skin leotard tailing him. Until Annie, his Good Samaritan friend with a beat-up Kombi Van, points out that the deceased aren’t your regular members of the great unwashed. In fact they’re suspiciously well dressed and happy looking. Except for the torture marks on their arms, and the fact that they’re dead, they could be any man.
Rain has a way of getting himself dragged into these things. While he’s trying to make an excuse to avoid helping Annie find out what’s killing these men, he gets a call from an old flame, Angela Golightly – Angel for short. Angel wants Rainbow to go to the casino and drag her husband back. Cyril was a jockey, until he fell off of his horse and most of the field at Royal Randwick ran on top of him. Now he’s a gambler, selling them deeper and deeper into debt. Rain doesn’t want to go – he has Imogene with him, and her mother is always looking for an excuse to take her away from him, but he can’t say no to the torch he holds for Angel.
Rain tries everything to get Cyril to stop gambling, from hiring an ex-hitman, to enlisting the help of Grundy Inc, a group of do-gooder women who specialise in curing men of their vices. They also incidentally cure Rain of his daughter – when Grundy matron Phoebe Riesling finds Imogene alone outside the casino, waiting for her father, the child’s mother finally does what she’s always threatened to do, and takes the young girl away from Rainbow. The more Rain learns about Cyril, Grundy and the world of horses and gambling, the more he senses something is going on. The results aren’t going the way they’re meant to, someone’s fixing races, and someone else wants them unfixed – and both will stop at nothing to get what they want. When Rain’s old flame turns into a pile of ash, he finds he’s in the game so deep that he can’t get out.
While this novel is full of action – a quick, fun take on a classic genre – its constant one-liners and wisecracks occasionally make it too smart for its own good. It feels like it tries too hard. Occasionally the winks and nods to classic noir become tiresome and overdone, and as a result the book fails to rise above the level of a fun and well-written pastiche.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars