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Refusal

 

By Kathy Pillatzki
Assistant Director
Henry County Library System

  In the steeplechase world, a refusal is when a horse balks at the last moment and misses a jump. It can be catastrophic if the rider is thrown, and means certain loss and possible injury for the horse. Months of hard work by the owner, jockey, horse and trainer can all come to nothing over a single refusal.

  Refusal is also the name of the newest book by Felix Francis. In the past I have reviewed books by his father, novelist Dick Francis, and a few books that father and son wrote together. Since the death of Dick Francis in 2012, Felix has released two solo efforts that I reviewed as almost - but not quite – as good as his father’s work. 

  Readers who were waiting to see if Felix would rise to the literary quality if his famous parent, wait no more. In his third novel, he captures both the charm and the break-neck pace of his father’s work. 

  It helps that Refusal brings back one of Dick Francis’ most beloved main characters, one-handed ex-jockey Sid Halley. Years after his riding career ended, and his second career as a private investigator lost its appeal, we find Sid settled into a country life with a wife and young daughter, making a living in finance. This peaceful semi-retirement is shattered when he is pulled back into the racing world by a request to investigate race-fixing. 

  In this mystery set among the world’s elite horse racers and the seamy underbelly of the gambling trade, Halley meets his greatest challenge. At the heart of the scam is a merciless blackmailer who manages to remain nameless and faceless while manipulating race results.  When word gets out that Halley is asking questions that might expose the scam, he becomes the next victim.

  Will Sid Halley press on and expose the corruption that risks the very future of horse-racing? Will he cooperate with the blackmailer to protect his family? Or will he risk provoking a violent sociopath with the ultimate slap in the face: refusal? The double meaning of the title becomes more ominous as the danger grows.

  Felix Francis perfectly captures the characters his father created. Sid, his beloved ex-father-in-law Charles, childhood friend Chico, and the numerous eccentric personalities that frequent the race courses are all here. Add in Felix’s own creations - a complicated plot, tantalizing subplot and one of the scariest villains in contemporary literature - and the younger Francis has pulled off a real tour de force.

  I only have one piece of advice for the author, just in case he is out there among you Times readers. The full title of the new book is Dick Francis’s Refusal. All three of Felix’s solo efforts have included his father’s name in the title as a sort of tag line. It might be for sentimental reasons, but I suspect it’s more to do with marketing; the name recognition of Dick Francis guarantees his established fan base will seek out and buy his son’s books. But it’s no longer necessary. His latest effort has shown once and for all that Felix Francis has the talent to stand alone.

 

 

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