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by John Francome
Headline, October 2007
320 pages
17.99 GBP
ISBN: 0755337255

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

John Francome's been turning out reliably-exciting books based in the world of UK horse racing for the past 20 years (and he still doesn't look a day over 30 in his author photo and I can confirm from seeing him on TV that he must have a portrait in his attic!)

He's inevitably been compared to Dick Francis, but really there's little in common between them, aside from the horsy setting. Francis's heroes are stiff upper-lip decent chaps; Francome's are generally flawed in some way.

DARK HORSE is a little strange in that it doesn't really have a focus. The story cuts between a number of characters, and I was a tad bemused when the person who I thought was going to be the lead character got bumped off fairly early on.

The plot is also fairly fragmented, but it boils down to two women being killed in hit-and-run accidents five years apart. Investigations into the second one inevitably open old wounds from the previous incident and unearth a conspiracy of silence.

I've always enjoyed Francome's books, mainly because he writes what he knows so well the horseracing scene and also presents us with characters who aren't perfect. So I found DARK HORSE a disappointment.

It's short on racecourse action, and we never get to know the characters well enough to care all that much about what happens to them. I couldn't help thinking that a book told by Alice, the sister of the first woman who was killed, would be an enticing one, as she is intrepid and sympathetic.

I didn't get much of a sense of place either it took me a while to realise that the book is set in Yorkshire, mainly around Doncaster. But the villages and the countryside could have been anywhere.

If you like horseracing novels, go back and read earlier books by Francome. DARK HORSE is heavy going.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, October 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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