Friday, April 24, 2020

Writer John Kendall Finds Trouble When He Agrees to Write an Authorized Biography

Writer John Kendall has always specialized in writing non-fiction survival guides, teaching people how to survive in the most rugged and unforgiving circumstances. Now, he has finally written a novel and his agent has sold it to a publisher. However, it will still be months before the book is actually released and begins to earn royalties (assuming it ever does). In the meantime, even living very frugally, Kendall has gone through the advance for the book and is in desperate need of money.

His agent hooks him up with a wealthy horse trainer, Tremayne Vickers, who would like to hire Kendall to write his biography. Kendall agrees to take the job, especially since it includes lodging in Vickers' large home while Kendall interviews Vickers and begins writing the book.

Kendall arrives at the Vickers farm to find a large and very interesting family living in or near Vickers' home. Most all of them are involved in the racing world in one way or another and very quickly Kendall is introduced to it as well. Some of the family members are very welcoming and nice; a couple of them are jerks, and the family has suffered a recent blow when one of the family members has been convicted of manslaughter. He somehow accidentally strangled a young woman at a party, but apparently in this jurisdiction, the crime is not enough to merit a term in prison because the guy is still footloose and fancy free and generally being a pain in the butt, especially to Kendall.

It soon turns out that another young woman associated with the farm--a trainer--has also been strangled to death and then buried in the woods nearby. Once her remains are discovered, the police will be looking closely at the Vickers family to see if there is a link between the two crimes. Inevitably, poor John Kendall will get caught up in the mess and will almost certainly need all of those survival skills he's been writing about if he's going to survive.

Kendall is a typical Dick Francis hero--bright, resilient, strong, pleasant, and a man that others almost always underestimate. This book is a bit unusual in that, unlike virtually all other Dick Francis novels, the hero has no love interest. There are a number of attractive women about, but they are all taken and so there is no one to whom Kendall might turn.

The book is fine and it's a quick read. I'm giving it three stars rather than four because it falls short of most other Francis novels in the quality of the villain. There clearly is a villain lurking here, but he's not nearly as mean, nasty, dangerous, degenerate, or threatening as most of the others that Francis has created, and the book suffers a bit as a result.

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