A review by Marshall L. Moseley
What makes one person good and the other evil? There may exist two people of the same background, with the same experience and the same tastes. Yet one will be a hero and the other a sadist.
What twist in the human soul can make such similar people so different? Dick Francis explores this question in his most recent novel, Come to Grief.
Francis is the author of more than 30 mystery novels, each somehow touching on the sport of horse racing. He writes with a proper British voice about proper British people, but don't let the refinement fool you--his books have all the gentleness of a serrated knife.
Come to Grief is the third book starring Sid Halley, a former jockey who lost the use of his hand in a racing accident and became a private investigator.
The book opens with Halley at court waiting to testify against his old friend Ellis Quint, a fellow ex-jockey who Halley discovered had been committing sadistic crimes. The trial is abruptly delayed, and Halley relates to the reader how he came to discover his friend's true nature.
We find out how he was called in to investigate a brutal assault on a racehorse, and how bit by bit, he eliminated all suspects until the only one left was his old friend Quint. Halley proceeds slowly, with a careful eye to the rules of evidence and legal procedure, so that when his friend is finally arrested, the case against him is airtight. Or is it?
Ellis Quint is a beloved television celebrity who knows how to mold public opinion. In the months leading up to the trial, Halley's reputation is smeared by the media and he receives especially brutal treatment from a local tabloid. His phone is bugged and his personal computer invaded.
It becomes clear that a powerful unknown person is moving heaven and earth to discredit Halley. The prosecutors who were previously confident start to falter, and it looks like Quint might go free. But Halley is not without resources of his own, chief among them his own inner strength.
And so the two men duel throughout the book. We come to see that in most ways, Halley and Quint are the same. Both were forced out of racing early, both sought out something with a strong scent of danger. Both are strong, stubborn, and smart. And both are almost always underestimated by those who oppose them. (They, however, don't underestimate each other.)
Author Francis provides no answers as to why such similar men took different paths. He simply paints a portrait of Ellis Quint as a man ruled by demons, and Sid Halley as a man ruled by conscience. Thus each is driven to oppose the other, and the story of that conflict is a riveting one.
As for Sid Halley, he must deal with the fact that his friend of 20 years is not a good man. What do you do when you find out someone you cared for is evil? Author Francis asserts that you would run the gamut of emotions from disbelief, to anger, to frustration.
And when the shock and the anger are gone, and forgiveness isn't possible, eventually you come to grief.
Marshall Moseley is a Woodinville resident and an avid mystery reader. He has fifteen years' experience as a professional writer, and is the author of two computer- and software-oriented books. He currently works for Microsoft Corporation as a product manager.
"I think mysteries have the best characterization in genre literature," he said. "All the other genres--SF, horror, romance--give second place to characterization and first place to narrative pace. Not so with mysteries. Mysteries don't work unless you believe in the characters, in what they're doing and why. Phillip Marlowe, Kinsey Millhone, Sid Halley--to me they are almost real, and that's a testament to the craft and art of their creators. So I read mysteries and I enjoy telling people about them."