John Kendall has given himself two years to make it as a writer. Though he’s published several survival guides as part of his job with a more than usually exotic travel company, he wants to write novels. Indeed, his first has been accepted for publication in the UK and his agent is negotiating with the US. In the interim, however, Kendall is shivering in a garret and surviving on a limited and monotonous diet. When the pipes freeze and his landlady needs him to move out, Kendall is desperate. Which is why, despite his agent’s strong suggestions to the contrary, he accepts the task of researching and writing the biography of Tremayne Vickers, one of England’s leading racehorse trainers – as well as a fee, the position involves living at Vickers’ home in Berkshire for a month or so.
The beginning is not auspicious, but as Kendall gets to know Vickers and his family better he not likes them. He inevitably learns about the racing world, and they in turn learn about survivalist skills - skills that one of them uses for a very different kind of survival.
This is the first Francis novel I’ve read and though I’d avoided his novels because I’m not that interested in horse racing, when I read a recommendation on, of all places, Smart Bitches, I decided to give it a try. Longshot is indeed about racing, but that’s the setting rather than the dominant theme. The novel itself is about people, personal history, relationships and love of several kinds, all caught up in a murder mystery.
I was captured from the beginning, and increasingly delighted to find an author whose writing is satisfyingly like my adored Bagley, though still very much his own man. Similarities include an intelligent protagonist with unusual skills (though less flawed than most of Bagley’s), who is thrust into a situation where he needs to use wit and observation as well as his gifts to uncover a bigger picture and save both his own life and the lives of innocents around him.
The characters are deftly drawn, the dialogue is natural, the plot is genuinely involving, and the writing is clean and masterful. I am also delighted to discover an author whose work I so enjoy, all of which awaits me unread. I will pace myself, and know that one thoroughly enjoyable book does not a kindred writer make, but I’m hopeful. - Alex