When retired steeplechase jockey and prolific mystery writer Dick Francis passed away in 2010, many felt a huge void was left in the publishing business. However his youngest son Felix, who co-authored Dick's last four books, kicked off his solo writing career with the critically acclaimed Gamble in 2011. Following up on that successful effort, the junior Francis is back with Bloodline, possibly reinstating his father's pattern of releasing a new mystery every year in the 50th anniversary year of the first novel by Dick Francis (Dead Cert). Felix Francis, true to his father's winning formula, sticks with the familiar - a first person narrative with an amateur central character dragged into a crime scene and having to solve it all himself, with horse racing playing a major role in the setting.
The hero in Bloodline is Mark Shillingford, a track announcer and TV personality whose twin sister Clare is a jockey. Mark wanted to be a rider himself but grew too tall for the job, so he stayed involved in the racing business in the broadcast booth. Calling a maiden race at Lingfield Park, he sees his sister lose a race aboard a heavy favorite, and, being very familiar with her riding style, he recognizes immediately on the replay that she intentionally lost. After confronting her about the questionable and highly illegal ride, she admits she had done it before and storms out. Hours later she falls to her death from a London hotel balcony, which is ruled a suicide by the police. Mark does not believe it, and sets out to investigate the events that led to the fixed race and to his sister's death.
The rest of the story unfolds in the familiar Francis formula. Mark uncovers a web of betrayal and blackmail among people in the racing community, and soon finds himself as an assassination target as he gets closer to the truth. The reader not only enjoys a thrilling mystery but also gets a look into the way horse racing is broadcast, with detailed narratives of how a racing TV network juggles together the "pre-game" handicapping shows, numerous live races from across the country, and human-interest stories into an apparently seamless production as seen by the viewer at home.
Readers of the last few books by both father and son, which tended to be rather lengthy, may appreciate this shorter work which is much faster paced and more in line with Dick Francis's earlier works. Felix does put his own stamp on the project and, in contrast with his father, he has toned down the violence somewhat and replaced the once detailed, graphic descriptions of pain and suffering with an increase in sexual content.
Felix Francis successfully combines all the things that made his father's novels so compelling: a clever multi-layered mystery, pulse-pounding pacing, and an intriguing racing backdrop. His work is a fitting tribute to one of the world's great thriller writers and builds on his enduring legacy. Bloodline is highly recommended to all fans of racing fiction and mysteries, especially fans of Dick Francis, who will agree that his son has successfully carried on his family's tradition.
Dick Francis's Bloodline will be officially released on October 2, 2012, and has a list price of $26.95. It can be ordered from Amazon.com for $15.71.
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