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10 Lb. Penalty
by Dick Francis
ISBN 1568955251 / 9781568955254 / 1-56895-525-1
Publisher Wheeler Pub Inc
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One of the most impressive aspects of Dick Francis's long and celebrated career (he's won three Edgar Awards, the Silver Dagger, the Gold Dagger, a Cartier Diamond Dagger, and was named the 1996 Mystery Writers of America Grand Master) is the freshness that he brings to each of his novels. Though every one of his 30-plus works of fiction has drawn from some aspect of the world of horses, Francis turns this constraint into a powerful source of inspiration. In 10 Lb. Penalty Francis adds several new arrows to his quiver. His protagonist, Ben Juliard, narrates the tale in a vivid first person that begins in his insecure late teens instead of the settled middle age of the usual Francis hero. Also, Ben's relationship with horses is more of a fading dream than an active reality. The book begins with Ben's expulsion from Vivian Durridge's stables; he's removed with a false accusation of glue sniffing. But as Ben soon discovers, it is, in fact, his powerful father's machinations that are behind his ill fortunes. The elder Juliard is "standing for Parliament," and the bachelor candidate needs his son by his side for a year of campaigning if he hopes to win. Ben accedes to his father's wishes. He almost always has, but he soon finds that his "gap year"--his year before entering college--is going to be a nightmare. Orinda Nagle, the widow of the recently deceased Hoopwestern MP, and her companion, Alderney Wyvern, resist George's campaign from the start. Then, Usher Rudd, a muckraking journalist, turns his vitriol to George. When an attempt is made on George's life, he and his son find themselves inside a vigorous tale of suspense that takes several narrative years to sort out.
Francis's lucid prose is the driving force in this political mystery, and the realistic rendering of the complicated father-son relationship between George and Ben adds a sophistication and weight that marks the author's best fiction. --Patrick O'Kelley [via]