To the Hilt

Dick Francis, Author Jove $24.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-399-14185-0
The ""hilt"" of Francis's delightful 35th thriller refers to the jewel-encrusted, solid gold handle of the ceremonial sword of Scotland's would-be king, Bonnie Prince Charlie. A descendant of the Scottish earl to whom the prince gave the hilt, narrator Alexander Kinloch lives in an unelectrified bothy in the Scottish mountains, supporting himself through his paintings. Al's keen visual sense allows him to draw the faces of the four thugs who beat him and tear apart his home in the opening chapter. ""Where is it?"" they demand, establishing the leitmotif of concealed objects that Francis weaves through the plot. Hard on the beating, Al must rush to London to comfort his mother in the aftermath of her husband's heart attack. Al learns that his stepfather's brewery is about to collapse because the finance director has absconded with millions of pounds. In desperation, the business affairs of the brewery are turned over to Al, though he pines for solitude, his easel and the mountains. A Francis novel wouldn't be complete without thoroughbred racing; in fact, Al's estranged wife is a race trainer, and one of the many things Al has to hide is Golden Malt, his stepfather's steeplechaser, slated to run in the King Alfred Gold Cup--unless Al's spiteful stepsister can steal the horse first. The diverse plot threads tie up neatly, but not before Al achieves an understated emotional breakthrough with his wife and with his undemonstrative mother, endures gruesome torture with hardly a murmur and wins his stepsister's trust. Likable characters abound: a PI who's a master of disguise; the earl, ""Himself,"" who trusts Al to hide the ancestral hilt; a solvency practioner whose flowered dresses and soft hair help persuade bankers to give the brewery a second chance. Earlier this year, the Mystery Writers of America honored Francis as a Grand Master; this novel again shows why. BOMC featured alternate; author tour. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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Mass Market Paperbound - 352 pages - 978-0-515-12148-3
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