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Posts Tagged ‘extortion’

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.






PORT CITY SHAKE DOWN by Gerry Boyle: Book Review

Portland, Maine, is a city dear to my heart, as my older son and his wife work there (  But not all of Portland is a renovated waterfront and fabulous new restaurants.  Apparently there’s still plenty of nasty stuff going on behind the glitz.

A fight at a funeral sets Port City Shake Down in motion.  Brandon Blake is a part-time college student.  He is riding in a squad car with a veteran police officer as part of a criminology course he’s taking.  When a call comes over the police radio about a disturbance at a funeral home, Brandon and the police officer go to the scene.

Several women are kicking, punching, cursing, and biting each other next to the coffin, and Brandon rushes in to separate them.  Trying to protect himself as well as stop the fight, he elbows one of the women in the face and breaks her nose.  The woman’s son, who is also the grandson of the deceased, handcuffed and with a sheriff’s deputy by his side, tells Brandon, “Eye for an eye, dude…Times (expletive deleted) ten.”

Joel Fuller, the man in handcuffs, gets early release from prison from a sympathetic judge the following day.  Now he’s got the chance to make good his threat against Brandon.  

Brandon was five when his free-spirited mother left Portland on a boat with three men she had met a few days before.  It was supposed to have been a short voyage, but the boat never arrived at its intended port.  It was reported lost, no survivors.  Brandon’s father is unknown, so it’s always been just Brandon and his grandmother Nella.  But Nella hasn’t been the most stable of guardians–she’s never far from a bottle of wine.

Given his background, it’s not surprising that Brandon has always kept to himself and taken care of himself.  When his criminology professor asks him why he’s only taking one course, Brandon reluctantly explains that he works at a Portland marina.  The professor reminds him there is financial assistance available–loans, grants.  But Brandon isn’t having any of that.  “I don’t need any help…I pay as I go,” he responds.

But suddenly his life is opening up.  Mia, another student in the criminology course, makes it clear she’s interested in Brandon.  She’s smart, self-assured, and thinks Brandon is leading an adventurous life very different from her own.  Soon they’re a couple, and Brandon has someone in his life with whom to share his thoughts and even his secrets.

Then, as he and Nella are driving around the waterfront, Nella suddenly orders Brandon to stop the car.  She has seen, or thinks she has, one of the men on the boat that supposedly went down with everyone aboard, including her daughter. But when Brandon rushes out of the car to find the man Nella calls Lucky, he’s nowhere to be seen.  Did she really see him?

I’m always delighted when I come across what is for me a new writer, and that’s what happened in this case.  I was ordering a book from Amazon and they suggested, as they always do, that I might also want to purchase Port City Shake Down. I took a chance, and I’m pleased that I did.

Gerry Boyle has created a very interesting protagonist, a young man who has made himself what he is with not much help from anyone.  He’s smart, independent, and knows what he wants from life.  I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, Port City Black and White.

You can read more about Gerry Boyle at his web site.