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by Dick and Felix Francis
Michael Joseph, September 2010
336 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 0718156633

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When Dick Francis, the grand old man of thriller writing, died earlier this year, it left many of us wondering whether there might be more books stashed away – and whether son Felix will carry on the family franchise.

The first question is answered in the shape of CROSSFIRE, the fourth collaboration between the two. As for the second, some gnomic comments in the accompanying press release suggest that Felix might now be going it alone.

CROSSFIRE is topical and, as you expect from a Francis book, well-researched (courtesy, by the look of it, of a family member in the military). Tom Forsyth is a British army captain who's badly injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. He's not the best of patients and when he's discharged from hospital, finds himself reluctantly back at his mother's home in Lambourn, the heart of the UK horse racing industry.

Josephine Kauri is known as the First Lady of British racing. What she isn't, though, is the slightest bit maternal, so Tom's presence is a tiresome one for her. And she's decidedly less than grateful when Tom starts questioning why star horses from the stables are losing races they should have won.

As you'd expect from any book from the Francis stable, CROSSFIRE keeps you hooked from the start. It's not a vintage offering, though, even if it does boast a hero who's rather unconventional in many ways.

Francis's heroes have always been ordinary blokes who certainly aren't supermen. Tom, as befits an army officer, can take care of himself – but has his injuries to frustrate and impede him (yes, we’re in Sid Halley territory here, long-time Francis fans!) He's not necessarily the sort of person you'd want as your best mate, though, as he's prickly and difficult and actually not that likeable. But you'd want him on your side in a ruck.

Where the book falls down slightly is in the lack of well-rounded characters. Tom's mother and step-father are both under-drawn, which means that Tom pretty much has to carry the book. And whereas there are usually a handful of helpful sorts to support the hero, we don't see those in CROSSFIRE, although head lad Ian has under-explored possibilities.

CROSSFIRE, as you might expect, captures the atmosphere of the racing community of Lambourn, although it lacks vintage Francis scenes at racecourses which only he can do with such panache. And for a Francis novel, it's a touch low on tension in the finishing strait – not helped, I suspect, by the under-drawn Josephine whom it's difficult to feel any sympathy for.

Where CROSSFIRE does ignite is when we have straight-talking Tom and his one man against the world scenes, which is more than enough to keep the pages turning at speed. And it provides a comfortable last outing for the Master. We shall miss him.

§ Sharon Wheeler is a UK-based journalist, writer and lecturer.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, September 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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