Dead Weight by John Francome @ Joe Bob Briggs

Phil Nicholas is a National Hunt jockey psychologically shaken after a bad fall. The National Hunt is a popular series of races involving horses in steeplechase races. Phil’s horse didn’t make it over one of these barriers, making the fall particularly nasty. He has had symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and it is making him not race as well. Because of the fall, he seeks psychiatric help, but keeps it secret from his wife Julia, a horse trainer, and his fellow jockeys. Phil is afraid the therapy might make him appear weak.

Keith works as a gamekeeper and has been losing money on the horses. In the novel’s opening, John Francome, noted UK racing commentator and seven-time Champion Jockey in National Hunt, sketches Keith’s early childhood. Keith suffered emotional and physical abuse from his father. In order to maintain his sanity, Keith created the Beast, an inner personality that can unleash horrific violence on those on its way. For most of his life, Keith has kept the Beast at bay. The string of bad luck and the mounting gambling losses makes this a challenge. Keith vows revenge against a racing industry he believes is conspiring to keep down lowly “punters” like him.

One of the pleasures Dead Weight had involved reading about characters that felt lived-in. It felt like you could meet them in real life. The novel also explored the murky relationships between owners, trainers, the racing press, and the ever-present Beast lurking in the shadows. When the Beast struck, the entire community reacted, some in fear and some in anger. Francome writes realistic portrayals of the horse races, making one feel like an active participant in the National Hunt races. The writing is taut and precise, personal interactions and action sequences drawn with the same skill. The novel is highly recommended for anyone who likes British mysteries – perfect for Masterpiece Mystery! fans – and for those looking for a fun read.

4 stars
Publisher: Leisure Books
Date of Publication: 2006
Price: $6.99 US ($8.99 Canada)
ISBN Number: 0-8439-5797-2

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