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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.