Catch up on shows with The Coast On Demand
Friday, August 24, 2012 12:00 PM
The world of high-stakes horseracing, being one of reliable intrigue and pots of money, is prime for a riveting and visceral whodunit. Sadly, Felix Francis’ Bloodline isn’t it. He certainly has the thoroughbred pedigree – his father is the late Dick Francis – and the experience, having co-written several novels with his father and penned an earlier standalone work which, like Bloodline, boasts the prominent coverline ‘A Dick Francis Novel’. But the narrative is stymied by lax writing and boggy pacing, and the potential of a promising setting goes unrealized.
Bloodline’s hero Mark Shillingford is a racing commentator, a career he assumed after his beefy 6’2” frame proved unamenable to his preferred pursuit of jockeying. His twin sister Clare, however, is one of the best riders in the business and the object of considerable pride on the part of her brother.
They had little choice but to bond, being the accidental offspring of older parents who had already thought their family completed (and what little we see of their father suggests the man is best avoided). Lately, however, their childhood closeness has been subsumed by an increasing reticence, not to say secrecy, of Clare’s, which is in evidence one night as she admits to having a new “lover” of three months whom she declines to name. Though she tells Mark she’s heading home at the end of their dinner, it isn’t to be: hours later, Clare is dead from a fall from the balcony of a Hilton hotel suite in Park Lane.
Francis conveys Mark’s shock and sorrow with literal heavy-handedness (‘I cried in grief, but also I cried in frustration. Death was so final, so permanent. There was no ‘undo’ button like there was on my computer’). The authorities’ verdict of suicide, arrived at based on a note in Clare’s handwriting in which she apologizes to her brother, doesn’t sit well with Mark, who conducts his self-appointed role of investigator-avenger between regular hook-ups with his married girlfriend of five years and, later, a hapless divorcee with whom he’s set up at a birthday party.
The plot, to employ a cliché Francis might favour, has holes big enough for an 18-wheeler. It takes only the most amateur, perfunctory sleuthing for Mark to discover that a hotel bellman witnessed a man emerging from Clare’s room immediately after the alarm was raised that she had fallen.
At this point, the reader might feel as Mark does upon being confronted by the irate, cuckolded husband of his mistress – “Allow the volcano to subside, I thought. Don’t go poking it with a stick” – and develop the inclination to keep Bloodline at stick’s-length.
Francis does follow an important rule of crime thrillers, in presenting a surfeit of likely suspects, but breaks the cardinal one: though Mark is appealingly imperfect, he is too poorly formed to be convincing, and doesn’t begin to approach well-roundedness. Equally, we don’t learn enough about Clare, either from the scene in which she appears or from Mark’s reminiscences, to care about the novel’s central dramatic event. For suspense and titillation, the racetrack is a better bet.
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