Guilty Not Guilty by Felix Francis: for those who like a plot with added depth, and a brilliant twist in the tail - book review -

Guilty Not Guilty
Guilty Not Guilty
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While working as a volunteer steward at Warwick races, Bill Russell will never forget the moment a police officer approached him to tell him that his wife had been murdered at their Oxfordshire home.

While working as a volunteer steward at Warwick races, Bill Russell will never forget the moment a police officer approached him to tell him that his wife had been murdered at their Oxfordshire home.

And if that wasn’t devastating enough, Bill now learns that not only is the woman he adored dead… but he is the police’s number one suspect.

Felix Francis is back in the saddle and ready to take us over bumpy ground in this compelling new crime mystery. Since the death of his father, the legendary jockey and thriller writer Dick Francis, Francis Junior has been riding solo and winning an army of new fans.

After becoming his father’s manager and collaborating with him on four books before Dick died in 2010, Felix took up the full mantle of novel writing and has been on a winning run ever since.

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, and Guilty Not Guilty – a legal and courtroom-based drama brimming with emotional intensity and with only peripheral connections to horse racing – proves that he is more than just a one-trick pony.

The Honourable William Gordon-Russell, or Bill Russell as he prefers to be known, is confronting his worst nightmare… the violent death of his much-loved wife. Amelia was found on the kitchen floor with a ligature round her neck by her brother, Joe Bradbury.

Bill, a business consultant and actuary, had been living on a knife-edge for years with his fragile wife who was plagued by depression and psychiatric problems, compounded by a bitter, ongoing feud with her greedy and envious debt collector brother Joe.

But when the police accuse Bill of killing Amelia and he is hounded mercilessly by the media, his life begins to unravel completely as he loses both his job and his home. Even his best friends turn against him, believing him guilty of the heinous crime in spite of the lack of credible evidence.

It seems as if it is all ‘happening to someone else, like a drama unfolding on the television’ and Bill, with the help of his older, supportive brother Douglas, a barrister, sets out to clear his name even though he knows the road ahead will be a rocky one.

However, Bill is struggling to cope with his cruel bereavement and finds that proving your innocence is not easy… you have to find the real culprit, and Bill is pretty sure he knows who it is. With the stakes already high, can he convince the police before he becomes another victim of the murderer?

There is a real edginess and poignancy to Francis’s new thriller with a first-person narrative that adds an extra layer of intrigue and menacing uncertainty to a story which explores family dynamics, the fall-out from loss and grief, and some fascinating corners of our legal system.

With surprises at every turn to please crime fans, a thought-provoking story – full of good old-fashioned detective work – for those who like a plot with added depth, and a brilliant twist in the tail as we gallop towards the finishing line, Guilty Not Guilty is Francis at his best.

(Simon and Schuster, hardback, £20)