Now that my contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is, for the second week in a row, featuring a horse racing thriller I’m beginning to realise my father’s favourite hobby (betting on horse racing) has had more influence on me than I thought. I have always associated betting with the sound of horse-race calling being played very loudly on a cheap radio that was never quite on the station and so was very static-y (aside from being a logical and successful gambler my dad is slightly deaf and technically troubled) but despite this I seem to have found myself reading more than a few horse racing mysteries in my time.
Like Dick Francis who I wrote about last week John Francome is an ex-jockey turned thriller writer (and also a race caller for the BBC I believe). Outsider is the eighth of 25 standalone novels he has written so far and tells the tale of an American jockey, Jake Felton, who leaves the US for England after encountering troubles with the New York racing mafia. In England Jake is met with some resistance from the racing establishment, reluctant to have a ‘yank’ in their midst, but he does gain acceptance and goes on to become a leading jockey. Which is when he experiences a series of ‘accidents’ (a near-fatal car crash and almost getting shot for starters) and it soon becomes clear he is being targeted by a professional (though slightly inept) killer.
Outsider is a solidly entertaining book with a hint of romance (between Jake and Camilla Fielding who is the daughter of one of the owners he rides for) and a decent thriller all wrapped up with suitably page-turning speed. There are a suitable number of potential candidates for someone wanting to bump Jake off including his jockey mate Mick (who begs Jake to let him win a particular race and is angry when Jake won’t) and an ex-lover who won’t take no for an answer.
I’m sure Francome was influenced by the success of Dick Francis but his books are different enough in style to allow him to carve out his own niche. Besides, fans of Francis’ books only get one per year (at the most) and must be needing something else to read too.
My previous contributions to the Crime fiction alphabet are