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Tom Chaney: Around the Track Once More

Of Writers and their Books, Around the Track Once More is a review of Dead Heat by Dick and Felix Francis. This review first appeared 11 November 2007
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Tom Chaney: Our Land is Honored

By Tom Chaney

Around the Track Once More

Dick Francis is out of the gate astride his 40th racing novel. This time around he shares author billing with his son Felix who has heretofore declined to be so listed. But for Dead Heat the publishers insisted upon co-authorship since health problems shifted much of the work of writing the novel onto the shoulders of Felix. I wrote here about a year ago upon publication of Under Orders that Felix had taken over much of the research duties once performed by his mother, whose death in 2000 led to a six-year break in the string of Dick Francis novels.

I can report that father and son are working well in harness together.

This time around the protagonist is restaurateur Max Moreton who has elected not to follow the steps of his father, a steeplechase jockey. Rather Moreton operates a successful upscale restaurant in Newmarket, the Hay Net, which caters to the racing crowd. He tells us that "As far as I was concerned, both ends of a horse were dangerous and the middle was uncomfortable."

Max has a backer who is to set him up in a larger restaurant in London. But the course of true love and Francis thrillers never did run smoothly.

We first meet Max Moreton kneeling on the floor of his loo poisoned along with scores of his customers by the fare he has served at a catering job at the Newmarket track. Health officials close down his establishment.

Before he can work his way around that, he must put together a lunch for forty sponsored by an American company located in Wisconsin. This time the food is good, but dessert is accompanied by a bomb which injures Max, kills several diners, and destroys the boxes at the track. A valued employee is killed in the blast.

And then there is Caroline Aston. This beautiful viola player was a victim of the food poisoning. She is bringing suit against Max for her illness and loss of income. Here comes the love interest along with solving the poisoning mystery, trying to get the Hay Net open, and tracking down the bomber.

So Francis, father and son, give us plenty of excitement, a steamy romance, some pretty good descriptions of food. Everyone it seems is out to get Max, even when he follows Caroline to Chicago, learns that Wisconsin is just next door, and dodges another attempt on his life in the far off wiles of the Badger State. But he comes up with the answer as to just who is responsible for the poisoning, the bombing, and the introducing him to Caroline, with whom, presumably, he will share many a fine meal and big fiddle tunes in years to come.

It does not really matter that the Francis twain ask a great deal of us in the matter of credibility. They tell a cracking good tale. And, as usual, the Francis characters exhibit a great deal of good sense -- should one say "horse sense"? No, one probably should not, come to think of it. And they are never as full of themselves as is Agatha Christie's Poirot.

As in Under Orders the reader can see with Dead Heat that the Francis family enterprise is showing fine new life following a period of exhaustion and reconstitution.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-11-11 07:26:56
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