Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Review: CRISIS

CRISIS by Felix Francis (Simon & Schuster, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Harrison Foster, a crisis manager for a London firm, is summoned to Newmarket after a fire in the Chadwick Stables kills six very valuable horses, including the short-priced favorite for the Derby. There is far more to the "simple" fire than initially meets the eye... for a start, human remains are found among the equestrian ones in the burnt-out shell. All the stable staff are accounted for, so who is the mystery victim?

Harry knows very little about horses, indeed he positively dislikes them, but he is thrust unwillingly into the world of thoroughbred racing, where the standard of care of the equine stars is far higher than that of the humans who attend to them.

The Chadwick family is a dysfunctional racing dynasty. Resentment between the generations is rife and sibling rivalry bubbles away like volcanic magma beneath a thin crust of respectability.

Harry represents the Middle Eastern owner of the Derby favourite and, as he delves deeper into the unanswered questions surrounding the horse's demise, he ignites a fuse that blows the volcano sky-high. Can Harry solve the riddle before he is bumped off by the fallout?

In the six and a half decades history of the Edgar Awards given out by the Mystery Writers of America, only a rare few crime writers have won the prestigious Best Novel prize multiple times. There is only one author who’s won it thrice, and he's not even American: Dick Francis.

It’s a bit of an open secret that the legendary jockey turned thriller writer’s output was increasingly a family affair as he aged, and son Felix has fully taken the reins over the last decade.

While still sub-headed as ‘a Dick Francis novel’, these recent books are completely original tales with new characters and situations - the main continuation from father to son being the broader horse racing setting and the galloping pace set by both.

In CRISIS, Harrison Foster is a ‘fixer’ for a London consultancy firm, sent to Newmarket, a market town considered the birthplace and global heart of thoroughbred racing. A stables fire has claimed the lives of several top racehorses, including the Derby favorite owned by a powerful Middle Eastern Sheik who is a client of Foster’s firm. If that wasn’t bad enough, human remains are found among the torched ruins. News that would be considered worse, by some. Foster isn’t a horse-lover but must quickly get up to speed as he tries to navigate a world where horses are worth more than humans.

Dealing with a crumbling racing dynasty, he uncovers a dangerous maelstrom of sibling rivalry, simmering resentments, and well-guarded family secrets. CRISIS is a ripsnorter of a read, a page-whirrer that tears out of the gate and keeps a frantic pace throughout, right to the winning post.

There's a lot of different crime writing out there, that caters to a wide range of tastes and reading preferences. CRISIS probably isn't the book for readers craving huge character depth or lots of social commentary (though there is some), but it is an interesting and engaging tale. A fun read where Francis vividly plunges readers into the world of horse racing and the machinations behind the glamour. I enjoyed going behind the scenes and learning more. Like the Alistair McLean and Desmond Bagley tales I read growing up, CRISIS is the kind of book that's a good fun adventure.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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