Book review: Front Runner by Felix Francis

The heat is on – in more ways than one – as Felix Francis saddles up for his fifth solo outing into the thrilling world of horseracing.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 22nd September 2015, 10:00 am
Front Runner by Felix Francis
Front Runner by Felix Francis

Francis, son of steeplechase jockey and crime writer Dick Francis, has never looked back since he took over the reins of his famous father’s stableful of racing whodunits.

It was never going to be an easy ride but Francis Jnr, who trained as a physicist and taught A-level physics for 17 years, is turning out to be the family’s dark horse as he hits his finest form yet in an action-packed page-turner brimming with mystery and menace.

Front Runner sees the return of British Horseracing Authority investigator Jeff Hinkley and whether his enemies are trying to boil him alive in a red-hot sauna or pursuing him through the heat of the Cayman Islands, the pressure hits danger point for our intrepid hero.

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When Jeff is invited to the home of his friend and eight-times champion steeplechase jockey Dave Swinton, the last things he expects is a shocking admission that racing’s pin-up boy has deliberately lost some races.

It seems Swinton is being blackmailed over what he describes as ‘tax complications’ and it places Jeff in a difficult position. Nothing the undercover investigator sees or hears can ever be off the record.

A return visit to Swinton’s house the next day ends with Jeff being locked in the home sauna and left to face a very sticky end in the scorching, blood-boiling heat.

Shortly after Jeff’s nail-biting escape, Swinton’s charred body is found in his burnt-out Mercedes at a deserted beauty spot in Oxfordshire. The police think it’s a suicide and write off the champion jockey’s death but Jeff is convinced that sinister forces are at work.

After studying video film, he starts to investigate the races that Swinton could have intentionally lost and uncovers layer upon layer of blackmail and treachery.

After more attempts are made on Jeff’s life, the new woman at his side, beautiful socialite Henrietta Shawcross, whisks him away from his troubles at home for Christmas in the Cayman Islands.

But danger has a tendency to follow Jeff and his enemies are determined to prevent him from investigating their crimes wherever he is and whatever the cost…

Francis takes off at a gallop in a gripping, high-tension tale steeped in the authentic, exciting and cut-throat world of horseracing.

Throw in a trip to the exotic Cayman Islands – the location of Dick Francis’s own Caribbean home – a thrilling, twisting and turning adventure and a new and glamorous romantic attachment for super sleuth Jeff, and this is a racing cert for all turf crime fans.

(Michael Joseph, hardback, £18.99)