I'll freely confess that I cried at the end of "Crossfire." My tears had nothing to do with the story -- which was excellent -- and everything to do with the closing of a chapter of writing history. Crossfire, you see, is the book former champion jockey Dick Francis was working on at the time of his death earlier this year.
Thankfully, his son Felix had been working with his father on the last few books, and their partnership reached a high point in the plotting and development of "Crossfire." Longtime fans will appreciate the subtle nods throughout the story to earlier Francis protagonists and locales, and are likely to agree that the writing is as taut as it was in the elder Francis' earlier days.
The underpinnings of this tale remind me of the forces at work in such classics as "To the Hilt" and "10 Lb. Penalty." The Francis hallmarks of loyalty, duty and decency all are present. I hesitate to say more about the story line because I do not want to steal any of its thunder.
It is safe to say, however, that in "Crossfire," Tom Forsyth faces up to personal challenge, as did Sid Halley. He arrives at a new view of himself, as did Philip Nore. And he comes to grips with family relationships, as did Rob Finn, Lee Morris, and the Derry brothers. Those of us who grew up with the words of Dick Francis can honor his passing, while knowing that his son has served his apprenticeship well, and has leaped into the saddle.
on July 2, 2010
Crossfire is a great book! Dick Francis had his leg amputated in 2007; and, apparently, he and his son, Felix, use this experience as inspiration. Crossfire is about a young Captain in the army who has been sent "home" after losing a foot to an IED during his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, "home" for him is with his estranged mother, a successful horse trainer with whom he has not spoken for years. To make matters worse, she is being secretive and more aloof than ever. The reason: she is being blackmailed.
Unfortunately, Captain Tom Forsyth is handicapped by an artificial foot, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and emotional issues related to his mother. One part of him wants to help his mother; the other part wants to run away. He wants to continue life in the military, yet the reality of his artificial foot is something with which he must come to terms.
Dick Francis is a master of character development. In only a few short pages, you understand the main character's motivations, his strengths, and his weaknesses. You quickly become invested in him and want him to win. In addition to watching the character grow as he works his way through his emotional and physical handicaps, you are quickly drawn into the story by the excitement of horse racing, kidnapping, extortion, and attempted murder. It is not a boring read. I started the book one evening and finished it the next day!
I'm a big fan of Dick Francis and this book did not disappoint me. I'm so sorry that he passed away this year, but I am glad that his son, Felix, has been collaborating with him these last few years. Perhaps we'll have more of these character-driven adventures to look forward to. In the meantime, you definitely don't want to miss reading Crossfire. It's one of their best.
First Sentence: Medic! Medic!
Captain Thomas Forsythe has returned from fighting and being injured in Afghanistan, to a place called home in name only. He and his mother have never been close. She is a well-known, well-respected, successful trainer of racehorses and at risk of losing everything to a blackmailer and/or the Inland Revenue. For the first time ever, Tom can help his mother; if she would only let him.
One thing on which you can always count with a Francis novel is a captivating opening and this book didn't disappoint. It begins with a bang, literally, and is both current to our time and effective. After that, I must admit, the old charm wasn't quite there.
Tom is an effective character and classically Francis; he's independent, a loner, self-reliant and determined. He was certainly the best of the characters in the story, and the most well developed.
It may sound silly, but enjoy that the author's voice, particularly with both the author and the characters being British, sounds British without an attempt to Americanize it. There was a strong sense of place, I feel I'm coming to know the Lambourn region. Details make a difference. The inclusion of information on Tom's life in the military, including what the infantry wears and carries with them, but also information on the tax system; these things add dimension to the story.
Taking into account that I was reading an uncorrected proof, there was a good deal of redundancy. I hope that won't be true with the finished edition.
The plot was good, but lacked the suspense to which I'm accustomed and a number of the situations were strikingly, and rather uncomfortably, familiar from previous books. Remembering specifically which books definitely took me out of being involved in reading this one.
One of the classic Francis elements was missing; the protagonist was never involved in a fight. Considering the occupation of the protagonist, this was one book in which he could really have held his own. Maybe that's why it wasn't included, but I certainly noticed the lack of it being there.
What did work, however, was the climax. It was unexpected, somewhat shocking and one of the best from Francis in awhile. The epilogue was well done and it is always important to me to know justice is served.
For all its faults, I don't regret having read "Crossfire." It will be interesting to see how the Francis name and style progresses from here.
CROSSFIRE (Ama Sleu-Tom Forsythe-England-Cont) - Good
Francis, Dick and Felix - 45th book
Putnam Adult, ©2010, ARC, US HC ISBN: 9780399156816
If you've ever read a Dick Francis novel, you know what to expect -- a resourceful young protagonist, possibly an armed forces veteran, who becomes embroiled in nasty goings-on in some aspect of horse racing. Oh, and he'll most likely be unlucky in love.
That's what is so marvelous about these books: if you liked one, you'll like them all, and yet no story is repeated -- you don't know what's going to happen next. They are invariably diverting and you pretty much always learn something and that's a pretty big payback from a mystery novel, don't you think?
For me, the best part is the protagonist. There is always something quintessentially solid about our hero. He may be "disabled," as is the case in this book, but he is able to use his head and whatever else is at hand to come out on top. There may be some soul-searching along the way, but there isn't any angst. In this book, our man has lost a foot in combat and realizes he has returned to his childhood home, a place where he has never been made to feel welcomed or loved, precisely because of his mother's '"Get on with your own life and let me get on with mine" attitude.' You see that stiff upper lip, "do what has to be done" temperament mostly in the post-war novels by Michael Gilbert, even Agatha Christie, but it seems uncommon for modern-day characters; they rely on guns and squads and tend to waffle about a great deal in their own heads.
I hadn't realized until picking up this book that Dick Francis passed away in February of this year. I think it is a great loss to the mystery field. His son, Felix, partnered with him on three previous books as well as this one, and I hope that, in time, he will want to continue his father's work.
on August 20, 2010
The Felix "collaborations" just don't measure up. It really doesn't feel like Dick Francis is writing these at all, but since the mid-90s Francis had become hit and miss, His great era runs from the sixties to the late 80s. But these new books lack the pacing, the wit, the strong narrator, and the detailed insight into a world. That was one of the great things about books like High Stakes which taught you about inventing and toy making, or Reflex (photography), or Forfeit (journalism, dealing with the needs of a handicapped spouse), The Danger (an anti-kidnapping organization). Felix has tried to keep the series going, but it would be better to just admit that it's over and let it go at that. Francis cranked out a book a year for 40 years, and, as I said, until the last decade they were all solid. A great accomplishment. But let it end here.
It's impossible to read this book without realizing that Dick Francis, champion mystery writer, is truly dead and that literature, as well as the mystery genre, is the poorer for it.
Dick Francis wrote mystery novels the same way he rode his racehorses: a smart start, a well-paced middle and a thundering finish. Even when he came up short there was no doubt he was riding to win. His works had certain hallmarks. The typical Dick Francis hero was a stoic male narrator who would take incredible abuse and persist despite the odds stacked against him. Many of the other characters were one-dimensional; most of the women even worse. Like many mystery writers, Dick Francis could tell a riveting story according to the best mystery formula. What lifted Dick Francis above his competitors in the mystery field was his style which had fans of good English lining up in bookstores to get his latest work. Each sentence was faultless; each word precisely in the right place; the result was like an action-oriented and macho Jane Austen married to a less stilted and terse Hemingway.
In the last few works that also bore his son's name, one could point to shifts in substance: more dimensions to the characters, heroes who would say 'ouch' and a more disturbing quality to the violence. These weren't bad things, and I think that Felix Francis has it in him to be a fine writer.
I just don't think he should be trying to write his dad's novels.
On the surface, CROSSFIRE looks like a sure winner with an appealing hero, a wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and an intriguing premise involving blackmail and murder. There's more complexity in the plot and in the hero, but the start is rocky, the middle sags and the ending made me close the book with a snap and say: "You expect me to believe this?" The hero, for all his sterling qualities and ability to quote Sun Tzu, is a little too ready to dish out violence of his own and his family is so dysfunctional that they are no fun to spend time with.
This is a no-spoiler review so I can't dissect the plot and characters the way I really want to but I can put my finger on one point that will sum up all my other complaints.
One of the enduring and endearing hallmarks of a Dick Francis novel was the way he worked the horses in and he did so in a way that his own love for them was apparent. They might be no more than background, but one way you could tell the good guys from the bad guys is that the good guys would never do anything bad to a horse. In this book, the hero's mom, supposed to be an outstanding trainer, deliberately nobbles her horses with a concoction that gives them colic. No way. Hard to believe. But Dick Francis is really dead.
on August 1, 2015
The development of the main character in each of Dick Francis and now his sons books are always excellent. You get to know the person very well and they are not always the same formula that you find in many other history writers main character.
Good Suspense development with many twists and turns with a great develop of who-done-it during the whole story.
on July 30, 2014
I have been a Dick Francis fan for decades; I owned every single book and reread them many times. I always admired the way he was able to craft eminently likable characters who had decency and integrity as well as flaws. You always cared about the participants in Francis' stories and each new plot introduced a new world, within and without racing.
But not this one. Characters were wooden and dialogue was leaden, situations unlikely. I was bored. BORED with a Dick Francis novel!
I find it hard to believe that Dick Francis did any more than a rough outline of this book before his death. Whoever did the actual writing was far from the storymaster that Mr. Francis was.
It does him no posthumous honor.
on July 22, 2011
One of the things I love about Dick Francis' books is that his protagonists are all strong, honorable, capable men who use their diverse knowledge bases to solve not-outside-the-realm-of-possibility mysteries. Sitting down with a Dick Francis novel is like ordering your favorite meal with a different dessert...you know what you're going to get, and you can't wait to see how it ends.
I have to say that this is probably my least favorite protagonist. In fact, he seems like kind of a d***. He comes across as pompous, oblivious, with overly-violent tendencies and an amazing lack of social skills. He seems judgmental, harsh, and self-absorbed. There is no emotional depth to his character, and some of his lines read like something out of a G.I. Joe comic. (Did he really just consider shooting someone with absolutely no proof that they were involved in the conspiracy??)
All in all, not my favorite, but I will keep my fingers crossed for the next go-round with son Felix flying solo.
on May 8, 2014
I have been ordering large print books for my sister-in-law Mary to give, after I finish them, to her disabled and vision impaired friend in a nursing home. I find I enjoy the larger print because I don't need reading glasses with them.
I had high hopes for this title. My husband and I were both fans of the earlier Dick Francis mystery novels (written, I believe with some assistance from his wife). I knew that after his wife's death, his son began to assist him. There has been a lapse of years since I last read a Dick Francis horse racing mystery so I was looking forward to this book after ordering it.
It's an ok (fair) book but lacks the characterization pizzazz of the earlier Francis novels. The mystery plot is fine but the main character, the protagonist, is hard to warn up to. The character is a man who has been in the military since leaving home at 17. He is now home, permanently because he has been disabled by losing a lower leg to an IED.
My biggest problem with the character is the repeated quotes from military strategy books and the character's instructors at Sandhurst. It seems forced. I found the plotting to be more than fair but this forced characterization of the central character in the book is its weakest aspect.
Still, I am going to try some of the other Felix Francis books to see if he improves over time.
Recommended for die hard Dick Francis fans only. Readable however not re-readable. Once is enough.