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Crossfire
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108 of 108 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 7, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is the fourth (and presumably final) collaboration between father and son Dick and Felix Francis. We hadn't known that, according to the dust cover, Felix had actually contributed to some of the earlier books, in which Dick's wife is known to have been an assistant to varying degrees. Felix dedicates this book to the memory of his dad, along with honoring the service of another family member in Afghanistan.

At any rate, we enjoyed the premise and the unfolding of "Crossfire" quite thoroughly. Tom Forsyth, son of a famous horse trainer/owner, is home from having lost a leg and foot in Afghanistan as a British Infantry Captain. Reluctantly moving back in with his mother (the horsewoman) and her fairly new hubby, he discovers that financial ruin seems to be close at hand. Some snooping reveals that their wealth has been nearly exhausted through a blackmailing scheme, complete with some race-fixing shenanigans, on top of a risky failed investment that was probably a complete fraud. Tom decides to pursue the matter on his own, at risk of life and (his other!) limb, with many surprises along the way.

We felt the plot and "voicing" of the book, as well as the psyche of the leading man, were every bit what we expect from a Francis outing. It was hard not to root for Tom every step of the way to the satisfying series of outcomes. For our money, if Felix wants to give it a go on his own, we're in !!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have read every book Dick Francis ever wrote, not because I'm wild about horses, but because, for the most part, they've been great stories that give me a new body of knowledge about something I know little about (horses and horse-racing), and in an engaging way. And when he moved on to glassblowers and other fields, I still found that I was gaining some insights while enjoying a great story.

Word on the street is that Dick Francis wrote his books with his wife, and when she died, he felt at loose ends. The writing changed, as would be expected. Now he writes with his son, and this, I believe, is their third book together. And while it has many of the elements of a class Dick Francis horse racing suspense thriller, it doesn't thrill like the old books.

It has horse racing. This is good. Afghanistan-Captain Tom Forsyth loses a foot to an IED and returns to the family home where his somewhat antagonistic mother trains horses.

It has conflict. Tom's mother (Josephine Kauri) is being blackmailed. She is being told that certain horses cannot be allowed to win. She's lost a pile of money with an unscrupulous financial adviser, and she's up to her neck in tax fraud and unpaid taxes. But do we care? Not really. The mother is such an unsympathetic character, her responses to her son's arrival are so distasteful, and her relationship with her son is so scarred and battered, that even the best of sons would flee. Tom doesn't, and you're left wondering why.

It has the compulsory Francis torture scene. I never liked those much, but if you're looking for one, rest assured you'll find it.

It has vast amounts of information about new bodies of knowledge. One is Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," and Tom, being a professional soldier, uses all his knowledge (and Sun Tzu's) about defeating an enemy. If this is an area of interest to you, you'll probably like the book. The other body of knowledge concerns the British taxation system, how taxes are assessed, when they must be paid, and all that good stuff. If that's of interest to you, you'll enjoy the book. If not... welcome to my world.

It has a disabled protagonist. Francis has had a number of them over the years, the most memorable being Sid Halley. Tom, fresh out of rehab, with his prosthetic leg, comes to terms with it, and you'll learn much about prosthetics and phantom pain.

The protagonist can't use his prosthetic at some point in the story. Another Dick Francis classic theme.

As to the other classic themes:

There's violence.

There's deception.

There's detection.

There's pursuit.

There's escape from a difficult space.

But overall, I don't feel that the stakes are ones I ultimately cared about. Nor does the pacing draw you in. The book starts slowly and takes a long time to build. You'll be nearly halfway through before you get past family spats and dinners with disagreeable people.

Overall, if you want to say you've read everything Dick Francis ever wrote, you'll want to read this. But if you're looking for Dick Francis at his finest, this isn't it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
I've read all of Dick Francis's thrillers, incl. the 3 previous collaborations with his son. I'm sorry to say that this last, posthumously published work is not going out on a high note, for me at least.
It has the requisite high-pain-threshhold hero who cleverly puts his average-guy smarts to use in order to cleverly thwart ruthless evildoers, but I just didn't warm up to it as much as usual. I think my main problem was that I didn't really like the people we were supposed to be rooting for.
I quite enjoyed the Sid Halley books, so I thought an amputee (with a prosthetic foot, not a hand, this time) who's a soldier rather than a jockey, could make a good protagonist, but... other than his military loyalty to the men serving under him in the infantry (which he is forced to realize must be relegated to the status of part of his past), I didn't really respect his *character* in the ethical sense.
Example 1: He recurringly wishes his MARRIED high school crush would agree to go to bed with him.
Ex. 2: He tries, with few qualms other than fear of discovery, to rig a horse race (while attempting to stave off his mother's blackmailer).
Ex. 3: The main goal of the plot is to help his mother avoid disgrace, prosecution & jail time for cheating the federal government out of large sums re. unreported taxes/income.
I could probably add a couple more points.
Oh, let's talk about that mother (and stepfather) of his! For one thing, despite being a successful racehorse-trainer, somehow we're supposed to believe she was actually convinced that her accountant's finagling was the safe side of illegal?! When she realized she was in trouble, she just stopped filing taxes at all, and hoped the problem would go away! And that's in addition to being a lifelong cold fish with no real emotion, concern, or understanding re. her son. She's not really worth all the trouble and danger he endures!
(Hmm, maybe the way he practically had to raise himself helps explain his shaky morals??? No, I don't believe in such excuses.)
There's basically no-one in the story who gave me that "I'd like to know this person; I admire them and enjoy spending time with them" feeling that often leads me to reread my favorite books for the umpteenth time. (Like I have for Sid Halley or Kit Fielding.) Even the semi-accidental shooting that happens in the climax (trying to avoid spoilers here) didn't cause me to feel much of any sympathy.
As I said, this isn't a badly written book, and maybe if somebody else had written it I might have given it a 4 instead of a 3, but my expectations are higher with the name Francis on the cover. If this is junior's (Felix's) idea of a hero, I may find that his first solo book (which I presume will be forthcoming) will be my last.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 15, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For those of us who regard Dick Francis as the Champion of all mystery writers, it's a relief to find out that the narrative gift is genetic. "Crossfire," the new novel by Dick and son Felix Francis, has all the elements of a classic Dick Francis -- flawed central character, horse racing milieu, interesting and well researched angle, and a solid mystery. But unlike their previous co-written novel, this one also has that narrative drive that keeps you reading page after page.

This does not stand up with the best of Francis' work, but it is satisfying and wildly entertaining. There are surprises along the way and some really moving moments as an injured British army veteran comes home to his mother's racing stable. Since his army career ended when he lost a limb to IED in Afghanistan, he's searching for a new direction to his life. Since she's being blackmailed, she's searching for way to get him out of her house before he discovers the truth. In classic Dick Francis fashion, the answer to both problems will be found when the mystery is solved, and the characters will mostly be changed for the better.

But like almost all his novels, getting to the end is as heartstopping and dramatic as the best horse races, and you'll cheer almost as loudly.
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