Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Dick Francis’s Refusal

Posted by nliakos on January 11, 2014

by Felix Francis (Putnam 2013)

I can’t understand why Felix Francis’ titles begin with Dick Francis’s, unless it’s to grab the attention of Dick Francis fans who might not pick up a Felix Francis book otherwise. Felix is the son of Dick, a British steeplechase jockey who eventually wrote 42 books, all but two of which are directly or indirectly about crime in the world of horse racing, which is the world Francis himself knew best. I’ve read all of Dick Francis’ books, even his autobiography (The Sport of Queens) and a biography he wrote about another jockey (A Jockey’s Life: The Biography of Lester Piggott). In fact, I used to wait eagerly for their appearance, usually every year before Christmas. Despite the graphic violence (the narrator-protagonists were always getting beaten up or tortured by the bad guys), I liked his novels because his protagonists were always so appealing: tough, honest, good men. Sid Halley, who was featured in four of Dick Francis’ novels and then again in this one by his son, is one of those good men. Orphaned at fifteen and apprenticed to a racehorse trainer, he became a jump jockey only to be forced to retire after he lost his left hand in a riding accident (, so he became a detective instead, investigating shady dealings around the racing world.

Refusal opens when Halley, now married and supporting his family as an independent investor, refuses to investigate an accusation of race-fixing from Sir Richard Stewart, head of the British Horse-racing Authority. Then Sir Richard mysteriously commits “suicide,” leaving Halley with the list of races Sir Richard believed had been fixed, and Halley begins receiving threatening calls from a mysterious Irishman who also wants him to investigate the same thing–as long as he finds no wrong-doing and reports that to the BHA. Halley tries unsuccessfully to resist the caller’s orders but finds himself inexorably drawn in.

Sid Halley always survives in these books, but there are always some tense moments as he confronts people who have no compunctions about hurting him or other people. In this book, he feels forced to stop the Irishman and his henchmen before they wreak any more havoc, as well as for the sake of the future of British horseracing.

Felix Francis writes a lot like his father, with whom he co-wrote four novels before Dick Francis died in 2010. This book had a bit less violence than the others, which made me enjoy it more.

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