For several years, there has been something of a mystery regarding the much-loved thriller writer Dick Francis. His economical and pacey novels, keenly evocative of the racing world within which their tales of skulduggery were set, have long been reader favourites. But who actually wrote them? For some years, the novels have been the result of a collaborative process. Francis's late wife – and now his son Felix – have had considerable input into the Dick Francis books. The two men are very visible in the promotion of this new novel (the second to bear a joint credit). As Silks is published, there is the usual air of celebration – but is this the real deal, or a canny marketing exercise to maintain the health of a profitable franchise?
In the novel, Julian Trent has been accused of a savage attack on an innocent family and is arraigned for attempted murder. The judge notes that the arrogant Trent displays no remorse for his behaviour, but a surprisingly lenient sentence is handed down. Trent's barrister, Geoffrey Mason, is not, in fact, pleased by the verdict: he dislikes his client, and was secretly hoping for a more swingeing judgment.
Mason's real passion, however, is not the law: he is an amateur jockey (Francis and Son are fully aware of the reasons that their readers pick up these novels). Mason packs his eponymous racing silks (though, of course, the title is also a play on the legal meaning of the word) and journeys to Sandown to race a beloved thoroughbred in a steeplechase. But he discovers that he has not left the criminality that is the bread and butter of the legal profession behind him: a fellow jockey is brutally murdered, impaled by a pitchfork through the chest. Champion jockey Steve Mitchell has evidence pointing to him as the killer, but Mason is soon involved, in a far more dangerous business than he has ever encountered in the law courts or on the racetrack.
So, the big question arises: does Silks read like unadulterated Dick Francis? Largely speaking, it does. Felix Francis has been involved with his father's novels in various capacities for over 40 years, and is adept at creating a simulacrum of the familiar style (helped, no doubt by some canny editing from the publisher). It's not vintage Francis, but the flavour is here, and the Francis fans probably won't complain.