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Book Author: Felix Francis

PULSE by Felix Francis: Book Review

In May I wrote an About Marilyn column regarding families with more than one mystery author.  Naturally I included the late Dick Francis and his son Felix.  Dick Francis wrote more than thirty mysteries, he and Felix collaborated on four, and after his father’s death Felix has written seven more, including the latest, Pulse.

Felix Francis’ main character, Chris Rankin, is an emergency room physician suffering from, and denying, her own medical and emotional issues.  Married with a loving husband, twin teenage sons, and a challenging but rewarding professional life, she nevertheless is dealing with depression and anorexia.

A man is wheeled into the emergency room, unconscious and with a weak but rapid heartbeat, where she is on duty.  He was found in a stall in the men’s room of the nearby Cheltenham Racecourse, hours after the last race.  After running various tests that prove inconclusive, Chris orders an injection of adenosine, hoping to restart the man’s heart back into a normal rate; while she is called away to another emergency, the man dies, and an autopsy shows he had ingested a huge amount of cocaine immediately before his death.

His death feeds into all of Chris’ vulnerabilities and causes another of her all-too-frequent panic attacks.  She’s been seeing a psychiatrist, but so far nothing has been able to relieve her feeling of professional inadequacy that has led, in turn, to feelings of personal worthlessness and body dysmorphic disorder.  She knows she should eat, but her mind is telling her that bad things–her husband leaving her, their sons having an accident, their house burning down–will happen if she eats even a bite, so she doesn’t.

In the midst of these overpowering emotional problems, Chris becomes obsessed with discovering the identity of the man who died under her care.  She talks to the local police, who believe that “death by misadventure” is the right call; their consensus is that he either committed suicide or else accidentally overdosed.  Chris believes neither answer is right, but her stubborn insistence on looking into the case overwhelms her already shaky mental state, and she is sent to a mental hospital to recover, with the possibility of losing her medical license after her release.

In addition to being a first-rate mystery, Pulse is a close look into Chris’ denial of her deteriorating physical and mental condition.  Her desire to get better and return to her life in the emergency room and to normal family life is overwhelmed by the voice in her head demanding that she not eat.  It’s a terrifying portrait of how the forces of mental illness can destroy a person from within.

Felix Francis continues his string of outstanding novels with Pulse The plot is first-rate, and all the characters, including Chris, her husband, their sons, and the various men who run or race at Cheltenham will keep you engrossed until the last page.

You can read more about Felix Francis at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.



DAMAGE by Felix Francis: Book Review

Felix Francis, son of the three-time Edgar recipient Dick Francis, co-authored several novels with his father.   Since his father’s death in 2010, Felix Francis has written four mysteries, the latest of which is Damage.  To use a cliché (which neither Francis would do), the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Although he started his professional life as a physics teacher, the younger Francis now is a notable author himself.

Damage is the story of an undercover racing inspector.  A former member of the British Army Intelligence Corps, Jeff Hinkley knows how to go about finding solutions to various types of crimes, aided by an incredible memory for faces and facts.  Now working for the British Horseracing Authority, he’s called into a secret emergency meeting of that body to solve an extortion threat that the board members view as catastrophic, possibly forcing the end of the BHA.

The BHA automatically tests a certain number of horses that run in each race in Britain.  When the board tests the horses that ran in the Cheltenham Festival, every animal tested returns a positive result for a banned substance.  Immediately after that, the board receives a letter stating that the same thing would happen at the upcoming Ascot races unless five million pounds were paid.  The BHA wants Jeff to go undercover to investigate and stop the extortion, without, of course, the public knowing the situation.

Jeff wants the police brought into the investigation, but the board is adamant that they must not be involved.  They are fearful that any publicity leaking out would undermine the public’s confidence in their oversight and might cause a return to the group previously governing racing, the Jockey Club.  And the BHA members definitely don’t want that to happen.

In addition, Jeff has been asked by his brother-in-law Quentin to get charges of drug possession dropped against Quentin’s son Kenneth.  Kenneth swears that he’s innocent, that the witness against him deliberately set him up by planting crystal meth in his flat.  But the witness has disappeared, so Quentin prevails on Jeff to locate him and either prove that he’s lying or else buy him off.

No one can bring horse racing to life like a Francis, father or son.  Felix Francis brings the steeplechase racing community alive, and his love of the sport is evident throughout the novel.  Jeff Hinkley is a winning protagonist, a man with outstanding investigatory skills who is doing a balancing act, trying to find the blackmailer, the witness against his nephew, and at the same time deal with his own uncertainty about his personal life.

Even for a person who has never attended a horse race, the Francis novels are exhilarating.  Damage is a page-turner in the truest meaning of the phrase.

You can read more about Felix Francis at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.