All the authenticity and excitement of a traditional Francis thriller
Pulse – A Dick Francis Novel by Felix Francis
£12.99 (hardback), published by Simon & Schuster UK – simonandschuster.co.uk
When crime imitates fiction and an author is quoted as commonly as Dick Francis in relation to villainy, something extraordinary has happened.
The author's work is so established in our minds that it has become synonymous with the more unusual real-life crimes, so up goes the cry: "It's like something out of a Dick Francis thriller."
Those novels have been crowding the shelves since Dead Cert in 1962, a serendipitous first title that has woven the Francis name into the warp and weft of horseracing yarns. Dick Francis died in 2010 but his son Felix, a former physics teacher with a penchant for incising his school reports with a fraction of fiction, had served a long literary apprenticeship with his famous father before losing his claim.
Since then he has earned his own share of critical acclaim in continuing the family brand of thrillers. The latest yarn to be spun is Pulse, which throbs with excitement from the moment a well-dressed man is taken to hospital after being discovered unconscious in a Cheltenham racecourse toilet cubicle, and subsequently dies.
Dr Rankin, clearly indifferent to the long-hours culture endemic in NHS hospitals, takes an immediate interest in the mystery cadaver and begins an extra-curricular line of inquiry.
Our doctor with the stethoscope clearly has an ear to the ground as well as the medical kit because in no time the reader is led along a path that includes depression, suspension from hospital duty, suicidal thoughts, suggestion of a critical line of inquiry for the police to follow and confronting a trio of jockeys, one of whom is a particularly objectionable member of the riding fraternity.
Francis has done his research diligently and Pulse has the authentic whiff of the weighing room as well as the pungent aroma of Cheltenham General Hospital's A&E department, nicknamed the Anything and Everyone by doctors and nurses we're told by the central protagonist – or the Arse and Elbow by idiots who thought staff didn't know the difference.
Our hero switches between hospital duty and acting as part of Cheltenham racecourse’s medical team, and as the field of characters pulses to its exciting finish, the reader is mentally hedging bets, as well as realising his or her own heart rate is well into three figures.
Without giving too much away, there is a final-fence denouement that few will foresee, except perhaps those in-running types who like having a few quid on a 999-1 shot. Suffice to say, future Injured Jockeys Fund dinners will never seem the same, and the start of many jump races may feature a few ribald remarks from jockeys about fast starters and slow finishers.
There is little doubt Pulse will find its way on to the best-selling shelf alongside its predecessors, and rightly so. Another odds-on winner from the Francis yard.
Reliable author whets appetite for winter skirmishes
Paul Ferguson's Jumpers To Follow 2017-2018
£10.95, published by Weatherbys – shop1.racingpost.com
This is 11th edition of Paul Ferguson's Jumpers To Follow and readers are once again treated to a thorough and enjoyable season's appetiser. Even if you are only mildly looking forward to the start of the jumps season proper, you will most definitely be eager for the winter months after scouring this superb look ahead.
Published by Weatherbys for a second time after last year's edition proved a sellout, Ferguson's effort again offers insight from many leading trainers, riders and industry professionals to provide another ace read.
The book follows the same format, providing in-depth opinion behind his selected 40 leading prospects, which include several promising types trained by a handful of smaller-scale operators alongside the likes of Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Colin Tizzard and Dan Skelton.
Besides the leading prospects, 12 horses to follow in Ireland are selected, followed by a succinct and noteworthy section which details the key horses from 51 yards in Britain.
The views of Jamie Codd, Noel Fehily, Jeremiah McGrath, Nick Scholfield and Harry Skelton make for fascinating reading in the A View From The Saddle section, in which each rider highlights a number of horses to look out for during the forthcoming campaign.
High-profile recruits are noted with point-to-point form analysed in the Under The Hammer section, in which several jewels are likely to be found, while Racing UK presenter and jockeys' agent Niall Hannity, the Press Association's Ashley Iveson, Racing Ahead and Betfair Racing writer Tony Keenan and Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide author Matt Tombs answer ten key questions in an interesting experts' forum.
Overall, Ferguson can rest satisfied that he has once again provided a highly informative read, a useful primer for what promises to be another fascinating jumps campaign. Frankly, you would expect nothing less.