Book Review

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Guilty Not Guilty, by Felix Francis

In case the reader should be in any doubt about the provenance of the author and the genre to which this book appertains, there is a helpful attribution at the bottom of the front cover; of the paperback anyway, published in 2021 [2019] by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., London, ISBN 978-1-4711-7319-6: this is a Dick Francis novel. Now, not being either an aficionado or a connoisseur of this particular genre, I don’t know what qualifies this book to be so described: unless there is a specific character or characters who recur in every story, it strikes me as odd that another author, however closely related or otherwise, should claim some sort of continuity with & from the original; in this particular case, it seems unlikely, other than the tenuous connection with the world of horse racing. All that said, on the evidence of this one, I might be tempted to read one of this author’s father’s books, having been reticent previously, given my general lack of interest in the so-called sport [and my growing concerns about the animal welfare aspect], a not insignificant dislike for the more well-heeled patrons, and an inherent disdain for the compulsive & addictive gambling entailed.

The horse racing element is minimal in this story, which is a murder mystery, in which the main character, Bill Russell; aka the Honourable William Herbert Millgate Gordon-Russell; has to deal first with the news, given to him while he is volunteering as a Steward at Warwick racecourse, that his wife, Amelia, has been found by her brother Joe, strangled in her kitchen at home while he has been away; then he has to contend with being accused of this awful crime, and all the repercussions for his life which proceed therefrom. He suspects that he has been accused of the crime by his brother in law, who had latterly become an abusive and potentially violent individual, targeting Bill, Amelia, and her mother in roughly equal measure. Much of the story is written in the first person, narrated by Bill, and it is reasonably clear that he is truly innocent, and not schizophrenically deceiving himself, or spinning a fictitious narrative, in the style of the protagonist of one story by another well known [arguable the best known] murder mystery writer, in which the narrator is eventually proved to be the killer.

Endeavouring to prove that Joe Bradbury was the killer is doubly difficult, because initially, the police cloddishly believe that Bill is guilty, but also because Bill has to contend with the grief of losing the wife he loved desperately, and it is this aspect of the story which is handled with a good degree of sensitivity. Not unexpectedly, the media cast Bill in the rôle of villain, and this opprobrium only exacerbates his feelings of guilt, despite having been as accommodating as he could possibly have been with Amelia’s depression and suicide attempts, aggravated to no small degree by her brother’s venom. He needs to find the real killer, but when nearly everyone, with a few notable exceptions, believes that is he, that is a very difficult task. The story is nicely paced, and there is a twist at the end which is suitably poignant. I would certainly be willing to entertain another of this author’s books and, given that he has written eight others, and co-authored four with his late father, I would say that was an even money bet.

5 thoughts on “Book Review

  1. I’ve never read any Dock Francis novels but the phenomenon of people taking up the mantle of dead authors is not new. I recently read a couple of Mapp and Lucia books by Tom Holt which were a very creditable homage. I’m sure there are lots of others but I can’t bring them to mind just now

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, of course, you’re quite right; I’ve read at least one of the new Poirot stories: I have to confess I can’t remember the author’s name, but I recall it was a workmanlike effort. Several authors have produced new Sherlock Holmes stories, too.


      1. Indeed; and the jury’s out on tribute bands, but I’m not a snob: most of them are very good, despite not being original, but composers have always ‘borrowed’ from each other anyway 😉


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