Front Runner by Felix Francis

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Front Runner by Felix Francis

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: If you've even a mild interest in horseracing or just love a good thriller then this book is brilliant. The plot is excellent and I found it hard to put down. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Michael Joseph
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0718178840

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Jeff Hinkley is an undercover investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, so he was in a difficult position when he was approached by his friend Dave Swinton. Dave was champion jockey and he told Hinkley that he'd deliberately lost a race and there was no way that this could be kept as some confidential words between friends. The following day Hinkley returned to Swinton's house to discuss the matter further - and ended up trapped in the blisteringly-hot sauna. He was lucky to escape with his life. Swinton was not so lucky - his charred body was found in his burning car at a deserted beauty spot in Oxfordshire.

Felix Francis is the son of author and champion jockey Dick Francis. Many years ago, with a passing interest in horse racing and strong love of a good book I read most of what Francis senior wrote. Then I realised that all the plots were much of a muchness and I drifted away. News that Felix had taken up the reins (so to speak) of the franchise left me cold: if I'd tired of the writing of the father I didn't think that I'd be enthused by the son. Then Front Runner landed on my desk and one day I wanted something light and undemanding to read...

I'm happy to admit that I'd been wrong and I read the book in just a couple of sittings. It would have been just one, but food was necessary. I liked Hinkley, who had broken up with long-time girlfriend, Lydia some time ago but still hadn't got over her defection. He'd moved into a new flat, but boxes were still piled in the hall months later. His elder sister is a cancer sufferer, but she still worries about him and mothers him: a habit that's been hard to break as she became his guardian when they lost their parents. He's human, devoted to his job and easy to empathise with. Hinkley doesn't dominate the book either: all the characters came off the page well. In fact - if I had to compare the characterisation of Francis Senior and Junior I'd say that Junior runs away with the prize.

The locations are great too. Given that Felix Francis is only peripherally involved in racing I thought that the insider information which was his father's strength would be lacking but that couldn't have been further from the truth. There's a real feel for the racecourses and for the industry as a whole. Part of the story takes place in the Cayman Islands and it's less surprising that he knows the location well as he regularly assisted his father at Dick's Caribbean home.

I've deliberately left any comment on the plot until last as it was this that really stunned me: I thought it was excellent. Hinkley uncovers layers of blackmail and more attempts are made on his life, until his new girlfriend, Henrietta Shawcross whisks him away for Christmas in the Cayman Islands - and hopefully to safety. The denouement is brilliant: I did see it coming, but only because it related to something which I did in another life. It's done well and I doubt that many other readers will spot the clues which are all there. It's first class stuff.

I'm a Felix Francis convert and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For another book about the racing industry, we can recommend The King's Jockey by Lesley Gray.

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