ALL HAT

B. J. Smith, Author, Brad Smith, Author . Holt $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8050-7217-4

Smith (One-Eyed Jacks) serves up a fast-paced, wickedly funny tale of revenge in his second novel (and U.S. debut), set in a close-knit farming community in Ontario. Ray Dokes, nearing 40, has just spent several years in prison for assaulting Sonny Stanton, the thuggish young heir to a billion-dollar fortune who raped Dokes's sister. Dokes returns to his hometown and manages to steer clear of Stanton, who has several underhanded financial schemes going, the nastiest being an attempt to buy up local farms, then use the land to develop a race track as a showcase for the thoroughbreds of Stanton Stables. Dokes quietly settles into his new life as a roofer and helps his friend Pete Culpepper to breed horses in his spare time. Romance returns to Dokes's life when Culpepper hires a sexy young jockey named Chrissie to race his low-end thoroughbreds, but even as their liaison plays out, it's clear that Dokes pines for a local woman called Etta, whose farm is one of Stanton's prime targets. As Stanton's development plan gets underway, the townsfolk increasingly turn against him and, in spite of his admirable attempts to turn the other cheek, Dokes once again finds himself at the center of a showdown with the spoiled scion. Smith's neatly executed climax takes place at a horse race involving Sonny's steeds and a ringer Dokes introduces to get back at his arch rival. The novel offers a well-drawn ensemble cast and wry, memorable observations. Smith is a top-notch storyteller, and though some of the plot points are familiar and the ending too tidy, readers will be charmed. (Apr. 2)

Forecast:If booksellers tap horsey types as well as general fiction readers, Smith's novel could make a strong showing. A striking cowboy-styled jacket should help sales, too.

Reviewed on: 03/24/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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