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by Dick & Felix Francis
Michael Joseph, September 2007
384 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 0718153650

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The one thing guaranteed to have me grinning crazily enough to scare off small children is the appearance of a new Dick Francis book. We're talking rip off the packaging, unplug the phone and read in one sitting territory.

The former jockey has been turning out pacy books since the early 1960s. The death of his wife Mary a few years back saw a gap of five or six years where it looked like Francis had gone into a well-earned retirement. Whoever tempted him back into writing should be prized above rubies, thanks to the appearance of last year's UNDER ORDERS and the new book DEAD HEAT.

It seems that the books have always been a family affair. Francis has been quoted as saying that Mary never wanted her name on the cover, despite her considerable input. His new collaborator, who gets front page billing, is son Felix, a former physics teacher (he taught my brother!) and now his dad's manager.

When you read co-authored books, one of the challenges is seeing whether you can spot the join. And apart from one section here on food poisoning, which sounds like the kind of thing a scientist would know, DEAD HEAT is pretty seamless.

Its hero is Max Moreton, a celebrity chef one of those chaps who are all over British TV like a rash. We're not talking Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver, but he's doing well for himself and has a successful restaurant in Newmarket, the UK's horseracing capital.

Max has been booked to cater for a black-tie event at Newmarket racecourse the night before the prestigious 2,000 Guineas race. But it turns into a nightmare after 24 guests end up in hospital with food poisoning. Max's restaurant is closed down, legal action is threatened and there's even worse to come.

And then father and son Francis are off at a gallop and the action never lets up, as our hero finds himself at personal and professional risk. The love interest is slightly corny, but it means a trip to America for Max which helps him crack the mystery.

The Francis formula has altered little over the past 40 years with a decent and brave hero, a horseracing theme in there somewhere, and plenty of nasty chaps who are prepared to knock the good guy around to get what they want. DEAD HEAR is no exception, but it showcases a writer who is one of the best storytellers around. Francis senior and his new partner-in-crime offer up the ultimate armchair ride.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, August 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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