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Friday, November 1, 2013


4 stars (out of 5)

The late Dick Francis, a former British steeplechase jockey, was a prolific writer of crime novels that center on the Sport of Kings (somewhere around 40, or so I've heard). On some, he collaborated with his wife, Mary; more recently, it was with their son, Felix. After Dick Francis died in 2010, he son maintained the tradition by writing on his own (albeit with his father's name in the title, as with this one).

I've been a fan for some time, although I thought the books co-authored by Felix were a bit lacking. Here, Felix brings back a protagonist familiar to many readers, former jockey and private detective Sid Halley. Honestly, he's not a character I recall - it's just been too long - so I can't compare Felix's version with that of his father. I will say, however, that I enjoyed this one immensely.

One reason for that, I admit, is that over the past year or so I've nearly overdosed on knock 'em down, bang 'em up thrillers in which the head games and action happen almost nonstop and the language can get a bit gritty (not that there's anything wrong with that). The minute I'd finished the first chapter of this book, though, I actually smiled and breathed a sigh of relief at the well-crafted and almost understated sentences - quite civilised (intentionally spelled with an "s" as a nod to the British). 

Here's the low-down: Halley retired as a P.I. six years ago after being physically beaten so many times (even losing his hand, now replaced by a prosthetic model) that his wife demanded that he quit. Since he's now the father of a young daughter, he agreed. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so when a friend high placed in the racing industry asks him to investigate possible race fixing he declines - until that friend is found dead, an apparent (but unlikely) suicide. Then, after Halley interrogates a couple of jockeys, he gets a threatening call from an unidentified man with an Irish accent demanding that he not only cease and desist his investigation, but fabricate a report to the racing commission stating that he found nothing amiss.

Halley balks, of course - only to have the man demonstrate that he wasn't making idle threats. Now, Halley's family is in danger, forcing Halley rethink his refusal and pull out all the stops and ferret out the details of the alleged racing scandal as well as bring the person or persons responsible to justice.

Dick Francis's Refusal by Felix Francis (Putnam Adult September 2013); 384 pp.

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