Author – Felix Francis
Published – 2012
Genre – Crime fiction
Felix Francis is the younger son of the late Dick Francis. They started collaborating on books in Francis senior’s later years and Felix has continued to write following his father’s death in 2010, with the books marketed as ‘Dick Francis novels’ so it would be pointless to try to review this without making reference to the Dick Francis novels that came before it.
This is a difficult review for me to write as Dick Francis books are something of a tradition for me. I first discovered them in my teens – an adult crime writer that my Dad hadn’t already read! After catching up with the books in print I then had to wait each year until I received the latest edition as a Christmas present. They were such an easy read that I could have a book finished on Boxing Day, so to prolong the anticipation they would sit on my shelf, still wrapped in Christmas paper, until I could bear it no longer.
The books are all based around horses and horse racing – Dick Francis was a jump-jockey himself and was famous (notorious?) for riding the Queen Mother’s horse Devon Loch when it fell just before it would have won the Grand National in 1956. When he retired from racing he turned to crime fiction and there are over 40 books to his name – the last few in collaboration with his son. There were only a few where the characters made a return appearance and for the most part each book brought new characters and a new connection to the world of horse racing – from jockeys and reporters to bloodstock agents and pilots.
So back to Bloodline – this is the second book written by Felix Francis after his father’s death – and it certainly carries on the family tradition. The main character is Mark Shillingford, a racing commentator and TV presenter. As is the norm the book is told in the first person – which I have always found particularly engaging in Francis’s books. The sudden suicide of a member of Shillingford’s family along with his doubts about the way his jockey twin sister finished a race he called arouse his suspicions and he begins to investigate. This leads to some amateur detective work (alongside what seems like shoddy policing from the professionals) which puts his own life in danger. There’s quite a lot of inside information and behind the scenes insight into the workings of TV and racecourse commentary which whilst interesting did slow the pace. The characters are well-drawn and believable and whilst Shillingford isn’t the most likely of heroes he is spurred on by his sense of right and wrong. There were a few places where things didn’t seem quite as well put together as they should have been – for example Shillingford’s ability to investigate seems to be dependent on some quite unlikely inadequacies of the police personnel involved and by the end of the story there are a good number of different police forces with whom he has had contact.
In truth this is an easy read and a relatively straightforward story. It doesn’t compete with those crime writers who appear to be trying to find ever more gory ways of killing people or develop more twisted and convoluted plotlines. What it does give you is a traditional mystery that is certainly worthy of using the Dick Francis name. Perhaps if I was coming to this as a new reader it might be a three star read but for me it is just the latest in the line of 40 odd previous books and gets 4! It does make me think that I should find the time to go back and read some of the original ones with a more critical eye.