Book review: Pulse by Felix Francis

Since the death of his father, the legendary jockey and crime writer Dick Francis, Felix Francis has been on a winning run.
Pulse by Felix FrancisPulse by Felix Francis
Pulse by Felix Francis

Francis Junior became his father’s manager and collaborated with him on four books before Dick died in 2010, leaving son Felix to take over the reins of a phenomenally successful series of horseracing crime thrillers.

In fact, Felix, who trained as a physicist and taught A-level physics for 17 years, is turning out to be the family’s dark horse as he rides solo with a run of exciting and atmospheric whodunits set in the world of high-stakes horseracing.

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And now he’s back in the saddle, but treading new and fertile ground in a crime mystery that veers partially – and intriguingly – off-course to explore the disturbing and potentially life-changing effects of mental illness, depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Chris Rankin is a senior consultant physician in the accident and emergency department at Cheltenham Hospital, but she is struggling with health problems of her own. Her panic attacks, OCD symptoms and anorexia are starting to affect her work and her home life with husband Grant and their teenage twin sons.

When a smartly dressed, middle-aged man is rushed to the hospital after being found unconscious in the toilets at the racecourse, Chris finds that his heart rate is dangerously high and in the brief time she leaves him to assess two critically injured accident victims, the mystery man dies.

His demise sends Chris into a spiral of guilt as she is convinced that it was her ‘stupidity’ that killed him. The police found no form of identification on him, and no one comes forward to claim the body.

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When an overdose of cocaine is found in the man’s bloodstream, the police classify his death as unexplained but Chris is convinced that he was murdered and sets out on an obsessional and perilous quest to discover the truth.

However, there is someone out there who doesn’t want her questions answered and will go to any lengths to prevent it… including attempting murder.

More of a who-is-it than a whodunit, Pulse is certainly guaranteed to set pulses racing as Chris battles both her mental demons and the darkness at the heart of this absorbing mystery which sets off at a canter and then hits the Cheltenham gallops at a cracking pace.

The portrait of a woman held hostage by her vulnerabilities and mental insecurities is cleverly drawn and immaculately researched, and serves as a compelling sideshow to the main act played out in the more familiar Francis-style cut-throat world of horseracing.

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Original, gripping, packed full of danger, menace and action, and with a finishing line that ratchets up the tension to boiling point, this is one of the best outings yet for the new Francis thoroughbred.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)