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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.