Tag Archives: Dick Francis

The Intel: Felix Francis

Felix Francis

(c) Debbie Francis

Penning thrillers has been a family business for Felix Francis. His father, of course, was Dick Francis, the former jockey who produced bestseller after bestseller set in the world of horse racing. Felix grew up listening at the breakfast table while his mother and father discussed the best way to kill a man, and has carried on Dick’s writing legacy. Front Runner is Felix’s tenth novel, and the 51st Dick Francis thriller, and it sees the return of his hero Jeff Hinkley.

We’re delighted that Felix has agreed to give us the intel on Front Runner, how he came to follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps and how technology has changed the way he approaches his horse racing thrillers…

Tell us about Front Runner…

Front runner is my tenth novel and sees the return of Jeff Hinkley, investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, who first appeared in Damage. As always, the story is set against the backdrop of horse racing but there is far more to it than that. My readers don’t need to know anything about racing in order to read and enjoy it, although they might learn a bit on the journey. It is a novel of mystery and intrigue with some unexpected surprises. Jeff is approached by the multi-time champion jockey, Dave Swinton, to discuss the delicate matter of losing races on purpose. Little does Jeff realise that the call will result in an attempt on his life, locked in a sauna with the temperature well above boiling point. Dave Swinton is then found dead, burnt beyond recognition in his car at a deserted beauty spot. The police think it’s a suicide but Jeff is not so sure. He starts to investigate the possible races that Swinton could have intentionally lost but soon discovers that others are out to prevent him from doing so, at any cost.

Your undercover investigator Jeff Hinkley was introduced in your last book, Damage – how would you describe him?

Organised, loyal, courageous. Jeff is ex-military. He was an officer in the Intelligence Corps. He served several tours of duty in Afghanistan and is not phased by situations of intense danger when he has to rely solely on his wits to extricate himself from trouble. In Front Runner, Jeff’s long-term girlfriend has left him and he is hurt and angered by her betrayal. As such, he shows a vulnerable side to his character not normally obvious in his day job.

Horse racing is still a hugely popular spectator sport, but like many sports it’s having to adapt to modern times – does that offer new opportunities for you as a writer? 

In many ways it reduces opportunities as I find it increasingly difficult to think up story lines about wrongdoing as the authorities continue to close any loophole I might find. Modern technology has made detection so much easier and more reliable. No longer can one write a “traditional” story about simply drugging a horse or switching one horse for another as drug testing and electronic chip identification methods would mean instant discovery. The routine DNA testing for parentage, dope-testing and digital scanning of horses may make racing much more honest but it doesn’t help me work out new plots!

Maybe that is why so many crime novel writers are setting their books in the past when forensic science was less restrictive to their stories. The age old Agatha Christie model of twelve people (including Hercule Poirot) staying in a remote house, where one of them gets murdered and Poirot then solves the clues, would soon unravel as a lengthy story if DNA testing had been available. It would be over before it had started. I choose to write in the ‘here and now’ so I adapt and cope with the technology, but it doesn’t make things simple.

Front runnerYou were a physics teacher and a crack marksman before you started collaborating with your father on the Francis thrillers – at what age did you realise you wanted to follow in your father’s footsteps? 

I didn’t actually decide to follow in my father’s footsteps. It was all a bit of an accident. My father’s literary agent approached me and said that, after five years of no new Dick Francis novel, people were forgetting and my father’s backlist would soon go out of print. What was needed was a new novel to stimulate interest. By this time my father was 85 and my mother, who had worked closely with my father on the novels, had died.

I told the agent that there was no chance of a new novel. He then asked if I, as my father’s manager, would give my permission for him to approach an established and well known crime writer to write a new ‘Dick Francis novel‘. I replied that, before he asked anyone else, I would like to have a go. “Write two chapters,” the agent said. “And then we’ll see.” I suspect he thought that he would then get my permission to ask the established writer. I wrote the two chapters and, as they say, the rest is history. The agent told me to get on and finish the book, and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since.

You’ve said that discussions around the Francis breakfast table could be pretty gruesome – give us an example!

My parents very much wrote the books together and they would discuss details of the plot not only at the breakfast table but also everywhere else, especially in the car. My brother and I would try to join in. How much explosive was needed to blow up an aeroplane? How can you make a hot-water boiler explode? How long could Sid Halley survive with a bullet in his guts with his blood dripping through a crack in the linoleum floor? How much force was needed to cave-in a man’s skull with a glass paperweight? Lovely stuff.

Front Runner is your 10th thriller, and the 51st Dick Francis thriller – reading them, anybody would think that horse racing is awash with crime and murder. How have the horse racing authorities reacted over the years to the Francis thrillers?

My father always used to say that there was far more skullduggery in his books than there was in real life, but people often like to think there is some question mark over racing. If a gambler backs a horse that then wins, it was the horse’s doing. But, if it loses, the gambler is apt to believe that the jockey was at fault, maybe he even ‘stopped’ it winning on purpose even though that is most unlikely to be the case. Both my father’s and my books have always received a warm welcome from the racing authorities. I believe this is because, even though we do tend to concentrate on the darker side, the books overall are very positive about racing in general. My father was inaugurated into the Cheltenham Racing Hall of Fame not for being a champion jockey, but for introducing more people worldwide to British racing through his books than anyone else.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

It’s not glamorous, it’s hard work and deadlines are very unforgiving.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

My father, obviously. As a teenager, I also loved books by Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley, wonderfully exciting stories that kept you turning the pages to discover what happened. More recently, I enjoy reading Peter James, Harlan Coben and Michael Dobbs. Sadly, when I’m actually writing, I find it difficult to read others. I am too immersed in the story that I am trying to create.

Give me some advice about writing…

Make your readers care. If they don’t care about the characters, like or dislike, then they won’t read the book. How often have you started a novel and then given up? It is because you didn’t care what happened to the characters so you didn’t bother to find out.

What’s next for you?

Book number 11. It is already under way and my deadline is next February, ready for a September 2016 publication.

***

Front Runner by Felix Francis is published by Michael Joseph, priced at £18.99 in hardback.

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The Intel: Ian Coates

Ian Coates
Writer Ian Coates is like the ‘Q’ Division of authors. He knows his gadgets. Ian’s worked in the electronics industry where he specialised in the design of radio communication equipment. Ian’s love of technology fuels his writing, so it’s no wonder he writes about high-tech spies in his debut thriller Eavesdrop.

It’s a tale of smuggling, industrial espionage, assassins and the struggle for peace in the Middle East. The novel was written in snatched moments on planes and in airport lounges. We love a bit of tech at Crime Thriller Fella — we have a transistor radio and everything — so we’re chuffed that Ian has agreed to give us the intel on encryption, robots and how winning a competition was just the beginning of his writing adventure…

Tell us about your high-tech thriller Eavesdrop…

James Winter is a Customs Investigation Officer, but when the smuggling ring he’s closing-in on suddenly develops an uncanny knack of avoiding arrest, he is suspended on suspicion of helping them. As he tries to clear his name, he uncovers a group of smugglers, industrial espionage, and a very determined Mossad agent.

The story starts with three apparently separate story threads.  The first follows the assassins – they are operating in London, and when their hits suddenly start to go wrong, they begin to think they have a traitor in their midst.

The second story thread follows the smugglers. They are setting-up a new run to smuggle diamonds from Antwerp to London, and need to bring in a new courier to help.  However, they soon begin to think that the man they’ve chosen is not all that he seems.

The third thread follows Winter as he tries to discover who was behind his dismissal. As the story progresses, these three threads start to come together until, by the time we reach the climax in the snowy wastes of Finland, they’ve become just one storyline and we suddenly realize there’s a lot more at stake than just Winter’s career.

It’s a fast paced thriller, and the book’s title gives us a clue as to what links the story threads.

Where did the inspiration for the novel come from?

I graduated in electronics, and my first job was working for a company that designed radio equipment – transmitters, receivers, walkie-talkies and the like – and one of the ranges we made had a facility for encrypted audio.  That was at the time of the Northern Ireland troubles, and we sold some of those to the Northern Ireland police force – the idea was that they didn’t want the IRA listening in to what they were saying.  And that got me thinking – what if I wanted to be able to intercept their conversations?  How might I go about it?  That was what gave me the main idea for Eavesdrop.

But I don’t think a single idea is large enough or strong enough to support something as big as a novel.  For that, I believe you need two or even three solid ideas that work together to create an overall plot. The second idea for Eavesdrop came when I thinking about the attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East, and how it is that we never seem to be able to manage it, especially around Israel.

It was only when those two ideas, together with some thoughts I’d had about smuggling, all coalesced that I realized I had a plot powerful enough to support a full length thriller – and Eavesdrop was born.

EavesdropYou worked in the electronics industry for many years – did you often get ideas for thrillers from working with so many gadgets?

I love technology, so it’s probably natural that they come into my writing.  Also, the environment I’m most familiar with is that of gadgets and high-tech laboratories, and it’s generally said, “write about what you know.”  I suppose, really, I’d like to do for electronics what Dick Francis did for horse racing – even when his stories weren’t racing-centric, they still had a horse racing environment as their backdrop.  That’s probably how I will end up treating the high-tech electronics environment – as a general backdrop to my books.

Having said that, I’m sure that each thriller will also have several high-tech gadgets playing their roles.  I find them fascinating and they open up so many opportunities for interesting plot ideas.  Even if ideas don’t come from what I’m working on, I keep up to date with the technical press, and they always have snippets of information on great gadgets.

I recently came across an article about a little robot designed by MIT.  It had originally been created to detect stress fractures in the walls of nuclear reactors, but someone realised its technology (which is basically ultrasound, as used to scan babies in the womb) could also be applied to find secret hidden compartments in ship’s hulls that smugglers used for contraband.  The plan is that these little robots can swim around a ship’s hull and scan it for hidden compartments without those on-board knowing. Smuggling is something that plays a key part in Eavesdrop, and is a theme I will probably return to in my third thriller, and I think this little robot may well find a part to play in that.

I’ve even dedicated a page of my website to “cool-tech” where I post bits of information about some of these gadgets I come across.

What’s the hi-tech piece of kit you’d like to incorporate into your next book?

I’m already working on my next thriller, which has the working title, The Rival. That has one really big gadget in it – a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).  And I don’t mean just one of those little drones we see on TV delivering Amazon’s latest shopping; I mean something with a fifty feet wing span that can stay airborne for the best part of a day – the kind of thing that circled above Iraq or Afghanistan at the height of the wars.  Those can be really high-tech, especially when you talk about the control systems, the radio, and its power. One of those is going to play an important part in The Rival.

Your writing was kickstarted after after winning a competition – tell us what happened…

There have been two particular competition wins that have played a key part in writing Eavesdrop.  The first was decades ago, right back when I was 14 and won a local authority writing competition with a private-eye crime novella.  That win is really important to me because there have been many times during my writing career when I started to become despondent.  At those times, looking at the winner’s cup (which I still keep prominently near my desk) reminded that I have proved I can write, and that has spurred me on to keep going.

The other thing that childhood competition taught me was that people’s opinions of a book are very subjective.  My winning story had been dismissed a couple of months previously as a very average 7/10 by my English teacher, which was due, I think, to the fact that she was a lover of literary fiction and looked down on genre fiction.  That competition judge, however, happened to be someone who loved thrillers and crime friction, and my novella therefore gained his attention and enjoyment.  That was an important lesson.

The other event that had a big impact on me was to be one of the winners in the Writer’s and Author’s Yearbook centenary writing competition, in which I entered an early draft of Eavesdrop. I still remember getting the email to say I was one of the winners – it was such exhilaration.   My wife and daughters printed the email out, framed it, and presented it to me together with a celebratory cake.  Writing a novel when you also hold down a busy job and have a family to bring-up is a very long and lonely business, so having professionals read a draft of what I’d written and declaring it to be a winner really spurred me on.  It told me it was good, that I wasn’t wasting my time, that it was worth me now investing more time to do the final editing and to send it out to agents and publishers.  It gave me that extra momentum to finish the job.  Thank you competition organizers – your efforts make a difference.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I work as a technical manager in the electronics industry, so I tend to have to fit my writing in between holding down a busy full-time job and helping to bring up a family.  That means it gets written over breakfast, during additional snatched moments here and there, and during holidays.  Eavesdrop was largely written during a spell when I did a lot of business travel, which meant much of it was written on planes and in airport lounges.

On those rare occasions when I can afford to take a day’s holiday to dedicate to writing, I rise at 6:00 and immediately start to write with just a cup of tea.  I write the first draft long-hand with pencil in a large notebook.  I work until 9:00, when I stop for breakfast and then continue until lunch.  In the afternoon, after a walk to get some fresh air, exercise, and a clear head, I get stuck into typing-up the previous day’s work.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

The need to plan.  When I first started writing, I simply began at page one and wrote from there without knowing where the story was heading.  I got to chapter 4 or 5 and found I had trapped my hero with no way out of his dilemma, and the novel collapsed.  That happened with three attempts at writing a novel, until I gave up writing in despair.

For many years I wrote nothing more, until my wife bought me a copy of Lesley Grant-Adamson’s great book, “Teach Yourself Crime & Suspense Fiction.” In her book, Lesley explained the need for a chapter-by-chapter plan.  It was one of those light bulb moments.  No-one had ever taught me the need to plan a long story before – at school we were just taught to write, and were never given the mechanics of how to write something as large and complex as a novel.  Following her basic suggestions with a few of my own modifications, I suddenly found I was able to write full length novels.  That was a very important lesson, and if it hadn’t have been for her book, I could never have written Eavesdrop.

How do you deal with feedback?

It can be really difficult to take negative feedback – it’s like a body-blow when someone says that what you slaved over for years doesn’t come up to scratch.  I’m glad to say that, so far, that hasn’t happened much, but when it does, I remind myself of what I learned as a child about the subjectivity of stories.  What to one person is the best story ever, is to another a bad story. So if one person doesn’t like it, that doesn’t mean the next person won’t.

As a writer, though, you can get so involved in your story that you are no longer best placed to see its problems, so comments from others are invaluable.  I try to take feedback without arguing back or making excuses, and then go away to mull it over once the initial emotional response has died down.   I think if you get consistent feedback on something, it’s definitely time to pay attention.

It’s also always important to say “thank you” for any feedback, good or bad, as feedback is always useful.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

That’s tough – there are so many good authors around.  I think I have to say Robert Ludlum, who sadly passed away in 2001.  He managed to create some great stories with beautifully complex plots.  It was reading his thrillers, especially the early ones, that taught me how to construct exciting plots.

Very recently, I read Skin and Bones by Tom Bale. There was nothing I could fault in it at all – it was immaculate writing.  That claims to be the author’s debut, and it put me in my place.  I felt tiny and very humbled when I read his flawless book.

Give me some advice about writing…

Similar really to the need to plan above, but I would add that it’s also essential to produce a solid synopsis before starting to write.  You’re going to need one anyway for an agent or publisher, but the reason to do it before starting to write is that it will highlight any flaws in the basic story before you commit months or years of effort to the project.  The problem is that it’s all too easy for the mass of 90,000 words to hide some basic problems in the plot or character motivation, and it’s only when you boil the novel down to 500 words or so that you can really see the underlying carcass.  It’s only with that in front of you that you can truly say the story is realistic and doesn’t have any dull spots.  It’s amazing what you can suddenly spot when you look at the bare synopsis of the book.

Do that first before starting to write, and do it thoroughly. The temptation to start writing can be massive, but I believe it’s important to hold yourself back until you know beyond any doubt that the framework you’re about to hang your story on is sound.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just about finished planning another thriller, The Rival.  It’s a story of industrial sabotage, a long-hidden family secret, and a double blackmail; and what happens when two people being blackmailed don’t want to be blackmailed any more.  I already have a strapline in my head – “What do you do if you’re being blackmailed and it’s not your money they want?”  I’m just about happy with the synopsis now, although I’ve made a few alterations based on what I’ve learned from Eavesdrop.  I’m really looking forward to getting down to the writing – it’s hard to hold myself back, but I know I need to have total confidence in the story outline before I let myself get too far into it.  I have to confess that a prologue has somehow sneaked onto the page when I wasn’t watching, but I’m back in control now!

You can find more about Ian, and how to buy Eavesdrop, at his website www.iancoatesthrillers.co.uk

The Intel: Philip Kerr Reloaded

It’s Christmas. You may have noticed that. Nobody’s publishing any books and there’s little in the way of crime telly this year, it’s slim pickings. So we’re kind of struggling here right now at CTF Towers. We’ve lots of terrific stuff coming up but, you know what, actually generating content with Crimble just, like, days away, seems too much like hard work.

Instead, reacquaint yourself with this fantastic Q&A with the esteemed Philip Kerr, Esq. I’ll meet you back here sooner than you think, so don’t become a stranger — clock in every hour, on the hour, just to make sure. Thanks for visiting this year, it’s been fun. And remember, you writer-types, listen to Mr. Kerr’s wise words. Keep buggering on.

Merry Christmas one and all, etcetera!

Philip Kerr

Photo: Joanna Betts

We liked Philip Kerr’s new thriller Research – we liked it a lot. You can reacquaint yourself with that particular review right here. A standalone thriller, Research was an enjoyably louche and sly journey into the dark psyche of a writer.

Kerr is, of course, one of the biggest names in the publishing business. His Bernie Gunther novels and standalones are endlessly popular. And no wonder, the man is a natural-born novelist. He cannot – will not – stop writing.

So it gives Crime Thriller Fella enormous pleasure to say that Philip Kerr has agreed to give us The Intel on Research, the changing state of the writing business, his new book series… and how he wants to die.

In Research, are your protagonists John Houston and Don Irvine based on any writers in particular?

No-one except me. They’re extreme versions of myself. I like to imagine grotesque versions of myself in certain situations. These are Jekyll and Hyde characters, of course. With the difference being that, like most people, each man is both Jekyll and Hyde, and the mystery is working out which one is the real Mr Hyde, if such a thing can be said to exist at all.

Like John and Don, you started out in advertising – how much of you is in those characters?

I worked in advertising for eight years, and at several large agencies including Masius, and Saatchi. I was not a diligent copywriter. I spent much of my time writing novels. Masius was very convenient for the London Library; and Saatchi was equally convenient for the British Library, which, in those days, was in the British Museum – a ten minute stroll from Charlotte Street.

There’s plenty of gossip about writing and writers over glasses of fine wine in Research – what made you want to write a thriller about your own business?

Because the business is changing so fast; I have wanted to do an in statu quo novel about the book business for a while. I have been a full time writer for 25 years and felt I could comment on the publishing business in a way that was both amusing and critical. Much of what the two men say reflects my own opinions about the state of the novel. That was fun to do.

ResearchHow has the writing business changed since you started out?

It has changed enormously. When I was first published in 1989, it was all about the writer, not the book. Publishers felt they were in it for the long term, to build an author. There’s less time for that now. It’s all about the book. Paradoxically however I think we’re moving to a place where the author becomes paramount again, but for all the wrong reasons. Increasingly we require authors to be celebrities; and if not celebrities, personalities who can masquerade as celebrities.

It’s no longer enough to write a book, you have to be prepared to support it in person with appearances and talks and stand-up routines. I do an annual American book tour that lasts about three weeks. During that time I become a one-man show. Not every author can or wants to do that. But if you’re not prepared to do that kind of thing, the business will leave you behind.

You said recently that if you’re not writing you feel like the ghost of someone else – can you imagine a day when you will stop writing?

I write every day. Even Christmas. It’s how I define myself. I’m not sure I feel like a ghost when I’m not writing; just that the me that exists is an etiolated version of me. I think the great thing about being a writer is that you never really have to stop. By which I mean retire. I was impressed that Elizabeth Jane Howard – who sadly died recently – was still writing a novel at the time of her death at the age of 90. That’s how I want to go. At my desk. Mid-sentence.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That most people don’t give a damn in the UK about writers. It’s different in Europe and in the USA. But here people really don’t care very much about books at all, any more. It’s a bit like Italy in that respect. France and Germany and Spain treat writers differently I think. But it’s a lesson well learnt. I don’t look for anything here and I’m not disappointed.

How do you deal with feedback?

Honestly, I don’t get very much. Mostly people are kind if they say anything in person at a bookshop signing. So there’s no problem dealing with that. But I honestly think that what I say about something outside of what’s in a book really doesn’t matter a lot.

Give me some advice about writing…

Keep buggering on.

What’s next for you?

I have a new series of novels coming out about crime and football. The first one January Window will be published in October; and the next one Hand of God will be published in the summer of 2015. Both novels are finished and feature football manager turned sleuth Scott Manson. Think Dick Francis and football and you will have an idea of what is involved.

The Intel: Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr

Photo: Joanna Betts

We liked Philip Kerr’s new thriller Research – we liked it a lot. You can reacquaint yourself with that particular review right here. A standalone thriller, Research was an enjoyably louche and sly journey into the dark psyche of a writer.

Kerr is, of course, one of the biggest names in the publishing business. His Bernie Gunther novels and standalones are endlessly popular. And no wonder, the man is a natural-born novelist. He cannot – will not – stop writing.

So it gives Crime Thriller Fella enormous pleasure to say that Philip Kerr has agreed to give us The Intel on Research, the changing state of the writing business, his new book series… and how he wants to die.

In Research, are your protagonists John Houston and Don Irvine based on any writers in particular?

No-one except me. They’re extreme versions of myself. I like to imagine grotesque versions of myself in certain situations. These are Jekyll and Hyde characters, of course. With the difference being that, like most people, each man is both Jekyll and Hyde, and the mystery is working out which one is the real Mr Hyde, if such a thing can be said to exist at all.

Like John and Don, you started out in advertising – how much of you is in those characters?

I worked in advertising for eight years, and at several large agencies including Masius, and Saatchi. I was not a diligent copywriter. I spent much of my time writing novels. Masius was very convenient for the London Library; and Saatchi was equally convenient for the British Library, which, in those days, was in the British Museum – a ten minute stroll from Charlotte Street.

There’s plenty of gossip about writing and writers over glasses of fine wine in Research – what made you want to write a thriller about your own business?

Because the business is changing so fast; I have wanted to do an in statu quo novel about the book business for a while. I have been a full time writer for 25 years and felt I could comment on the publishing business in a way that was both amusing and critical. Much of what the two men say reflects my own opinions about the state of the novel. That was fun to do.

ResearchHow has the writing business changed since you started out?

It has changed enormously. When I was first published in 1989, it was all about the writer, not the book. Publishers felt they were in it for the long term, to build an author. There’s less time for that now. It’s all about the book. Paradoxically however I think we’re moving to a place where the author becomes paramount again, but for all the wrong reasons. Increasingly we require authors to be celebrities; and if not celebrities, personalities who can masquerade as celebrities.

It’s no longer enough to write a book, you have to be prepared to support it in person with appearances and talks and stand-up routines. I do an annual American book tour that lasts about three weeks. During that time I become a one-man show. Not every author can or wants to do that. But if you’re not prepared to do that kind of thing, the business will leave you behind.

You said recently that if you’re not writing you feel like the ghost of someone else – can you imagine a day when you will stop writing?

I write every day. Even Christmas. It’s how I define myself. I’m not sure I feel like a ghost when I’m not writing; just that the me that exists is an etiolated version of me. I think the great thing about being a writer is that you never really have to stop. By which I mean retire. I was impressed that Elizabeth Jane Howard – who sadly died recently – was still writing a novel at the time of her death at the age of 90. That’s how I want to go. At my desk. Mid-sentence.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That most people don’t give a damn in the UK about writers. It’s different in Europe and in the USA. But here people really don’t care very much about books at all, any more. It’s a bit like Italy in that respect. France and Germany and Spain treat writers differently I think. But it’s a lesson well learnt. I don’t look for anything here and I’m not disappointed.

How do you deal with feedback?

Honestly, I don’t get very much. Mostly people are kind if they say anything in person at a bookshop signing. So there’s no problem dealing with that. But I honestly think that what I say about something outside of what’s in a book really doesn’t matter a lot.

Give me some advice about writing…

Keep buggering on.

What’s next for you?

I have a new series of novels coming out about crime and football. The first one January Window will be published in October; and the next one Hand of God will be published in the summer of 2015. Both novels are finished and feature football manager turned sleuth Scott Manson. Think Dick Francis and football and you will have an idea of what is involved.

Taking The Fall – A.P. McCoy

UnknownTaking The Fall is the novel equivalent of ITV3: You know that when you need something warm and comforting you can always tune in to find a crime-drama featuring a dodgy character in a fedora driving an Austin Allegro.

You’ll find the blurb in the winner’s enclosure:

Duncan Claymore could have it all. He’s one of the country’s up and coming young jockeys and this season his sights are set on getting right to the top. He has the talent and the tenacity, but he also has his demons, and it’s these that threaten to overthrow his burning ambition.

Duncan was taught everything he knows by his father, Charlie, a former trainer whose career and reputation were destroyed when a series of bitter rivalries got out of hand. It ruined him and Charlie hasn’t been able to set foot on a racecourse since.

Now, with his father’s health rapidly declining, Duncan is desperate to beat the best and at the same time take down the men responsible for Charlie’s ruin. But can he do both or must he choose between his family and his future? Dark, gripping and compulsive, TAKING THE FALL is the first thriller from champion jockey, A.P. McCoy.

For a thriller, Taking The Fall is a friendly little book, and there’s a lot to enjoy in it. McCoy diplomatically sets his tale at the arse-end of the 70s when presumably corruption was rife in horse-racing, and less mired, I’d imagine, in tedious rules and regulations. But it also means he can embellish his tale with a rich cast of chancers and boo-hiss villains of the kind you’d find in a vintage episode of Minder. Everyone’s a little bit woo, a little bit waah.

As an instrument of revenge, Duncan Claymore is an amiable cheeky-chappie – one part Hamlet, three-parts Robin Asquith – and this ambitious, randy young hero is surrounded by trainers, jockeys, leggy women and shady hangers-on, such as the agent with  a tendency to prance like Jagger when he gets excited.

But beware the blurb: dark it ain’t. Revenge, as everyone will tell you, is a dish served cold, but as a crime drama Taking The Fall never really gets the blood pumping – the only bit of nastiness happens off stage. It’s a book best appreciated as a comedy-thriller, and it canters easily to the finishing line – sorry about this  – without ever have to use the whip. Your Uncle Neddy may enjoy it in front of the fire at Christmas, but some of the sexy-romps – Duncan likes the ladies – may make Aunty Maureen blush.

I’ve never read any Dick Francis so I’ve nothing to compare it with, but I understand Mr. McCoy is a jockey of some reputation, and Taking The Fall answers some of the questions that a layman like myself has always wondered about racing – such as does the horse know it’s running?

There’s much to admire in Taking The Fall. It’s an easy read, warm and occasionally surreal – and at the end Duncan is left with unfinished business, so I expect it’s the first in a series – and if you don’t mind getting mud on your trousers it may be just your kind of thing.

Many thanks to Grame Williams at Orion Books for the review copy.