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by John Francome
St Martin's Minotaur, October 2005
288 pages
ISBN: 0312329814

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

John Francome has moved very comfortably into the saddle vacated by the great Dick Francis. And while it always seems a touch harsh to keep comparing racing mystery writers with Francis, realistically he's the one who set the pace and to whom the pretenders must measure up.

Francome's main characters are never quite as decent and likeable as Francis's stiff upper lip Brits. In DEAD WEIGHT, I wasn't that many pages in before I longed to give hero Phil Nicholas and his wife Julia a good shake and tell themselves to pull themselves together and start talking.

Phil's a former champion jockey who is having great difficulty getting back in the saddle, so to speak, after a crashing fall. Julia, meanwhile, seems to spend an inordinate amount of time talking to horses, as you do.

Their already rocky existence is threatened further when their paths cross with Keith Jeffries, a psychopathic punter whose frequent losses at the bookies are starting to grate -- and he's determined to make those responsible pay.

I have to say that I'm rather fond of Francome's books, and find them enjoyable and easy reads. But the faults that have bedevilled earlier books are here in DEAD WEIGHT. Francome often shows his hand early in the prologue, which is what happens here. I don't mind whydunits, but Francome does tend to telegraph his endings a bit too clearly.

His plots are often not quite tight and focused enough, and there's a lot of moving between characters and points of view, which tends to make the books a bit light on tension. Having said that, I did prefer several of the supporting cast to the two ostensibly main characters -- I grew rather fond of bumbling racing journalist Hugh and trainer's daughter Louise.

Aside from wanting to give the two leading characters a good-talking to, I wasn't over-enamoured of the villain, who's a bit ludicrous, to be honest, and lumbers around like an overdone stage baddie.

But DEAD WEIGHT is still a fine comfort read which captures the excitement of the racing world, the uncertainty of jockeys' lives and the flimsiness of their careers. It's well worth an afternoon of your time when the going's rough outside.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, October 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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