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Friday
Dec212012

Road Read: Dick Francis’s Bloodline

By Christopher A. Sawyer

The wife-to-be is into horses, and has been since her earliest days. In her pre-teen years, she produced a set of architectural drawings outlining how her dad could turn the family garage into a stable. He declined. She paid for her obsession by mucking out stalls and doing other chores to pay for riding lessons. Later still, she trained a horse in which she had a half-share so well that it was first alternate for the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team’s dressage team. She also loves cars… and stray cats.

One other, related, obsession was for the books of Dick Francis; he being the Agatha Christie of horse-related murder mysteries. Her bookshelves are filled with every book the man has ever written, and she swears they are great reads; rich in detail and accuracy. They should be. Dick Francis was a champion jockey who rode for England’s Queen Mother in the 1950s.

Francis died in 2010, but his writing legacy continues under the watchful eye of his youngest son, Felix. Felix Francis collaborated on his father’s last four novels, helping to co-write the novels he used to only help research. The former physics teacher and sport shooting marksman took up the reins, and pushed the franchise forward in his father’s absence. Often this would be the kiss of death, but Felix Francis has proven to be every bit as capable a writer as his father.

His latest effort, Bloodline, follows Mark Shillingford, a television race caller, and his sister Clare, an accomplished jockey. The book opens with Shillingford calling a race his sister leads and could easily win, but loses in the final lengths. Certain she has thrown the race, he confronts her at dinner that evening. She storms off, and jumps to her death that night from the balcony of a London hotel; only Mark, her twin, can’t believe that his sister would do herself in such a manner. His probing reveals a trail of blackmail, murder, betrayal and adultery among the elite of the horse racing community, and more plot twists and turns than most stories could carry.

The beauty, however, is that the story does carry these machinations without feeling contrived or unbelievable. This is a fast-paced book readers will devour, even if they haven’t the least interest in either horses or horse racing. The only sore point is a focus on sexual escapades, though Francis does his best to keep it subdued while still providing the titillation today’s publishers believe will pique readers’ interest.

I will confess to never having read a Dick, or Felix, Francis book before this, and having bought this copy only because I needed something to read on the way to, and from, a recent vehicle launch. I’m glad I did. I can’t wait for the next installment.

Title: Dick Francis’s Bloodline

Author: Felix Francis

Publisher: Penguin Group

Pages: 368

Price: $26.95

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