Review: To The Hilt by Dick Francis

Book info: 

Form: pdf
Genre: crime mystery, contemporary fiction
Target audience: more or less everyone who likes the genre


“Some are born weird, some achieve it, others have weirdness thrust upon them.” 

Alexander Kinloch, despite being a nephew of a Scottish earl, prefers living alone in a very modest hut in the middle of the mountains. He doesn’t appreciate civilisation, just peace and quiet which allow him to paint. Unfortunately all good things come to an end. One day four backpackers find a way to his stony  lair. These are not normal tourists, though – shouting viciously “where is it?” they attack Al, beat him black and blue, demolish his abode and depart, leaving poor man barely alive. Who sent them? What were they really looking for? How could they be found again and brought to justice?

This event drags Al back to the ‘normal’ world – to his mother, a posh lady living comfortably in London, his ailing step-father, an owner of a local brewery who’s recovering from a heart attack, his wife, Emily, left by Al after barely six months of marriage, and the hustle and bustle of everyday’s business.

Each of these people have some serious troubles which seem to be connected to Alexander’s unpleasant beating. Millions of pounds are missing from his stepfather’s business. The earl struggles to protect his family’s famous heirlooms. A valuable racehorse is under threat and Emily is the only person who can help and save it. When his stepfather names Alexander to be his power of attorney during the convalescence (instead of his daughter), an all-out family feud begins to boil over. Then comes the first ugly death and the end of all Alexander’s doubts whether he actually should get mixed into all of this. For the honour of the Kinlochs he will face the strangers again … up to the hilt…

What I liked:

The main character is another of Dick Francis’s painters who has to find a solution to a crime before the baddies get him and his folk. Once again the characteristic was done splendidly. Al is a solitary excentric with a great sense of humour but rather poor social skills whose intelligence make him even more solitary among ‘normal’, ordinary people. His stolid, sometimes unexpectedly funny narration is the best part of the book and the more you find about Al the more you want to know.
Of course there was a racing event in the background and an embezzlement involved – two features so characteristic for Francis novels. Here also one of baddies, Al’s step-sister, Patsy, drew my attention. It was a delightful woman, full of vices, greedy and rather beautiful who thrived organizing things. I loved the way the author developed her character from a vicious, overly jealous witch, hovering constantly over her weak daddy like a harpy, into…well, if I told you I would have to spoil you. 🙂 Let me just say that Patsy, contrary to other baddies, will surprise you at the end. Personally I love such twists.
I loved the references to the legends of King Arthur: the golden ‘chalice’ which plenty of people desire to find, the sword (or rather its hilt) which needs protection, the ‘damsel in distress’ who needs rescuing and those women who are more like Morgan le Fay – independent, agressive, dangerous and cunning. It was all very well done, perfectly mixed with contemporary reality, and the main character served like a kind of ‘adapter’ for all the sides involved and, of course, a perfect knight. 🙂 A feature to notice: Al doesn’t have to be freakishly strong/gifted at martial arts or excessivelly agressive to be a formidable opponent.
What I didn’t like:
I admit the mystery was a bit predictable and the main hero, despite some beatings and broken ribs, still a tad too lucky (and indeed, Mr. Francis likes having his heroes beaten up rather often ;P how very sadistic of him)… The ending I found overly sweet: a perfect fairy tale HEA for almost every ‘white hat’ around. Especially a certain scene made me laugh: when an elderly and very educated lady called Zoe found her portrait and was so taken with it that she abandoned instantly her ‘sacred’ quest for a rare and precious, historical artifact…well, undeniably some portraits can make a great effect on people but every infatuation has its limits.

Final verdict:

An author you can get addicted to. I would compare Francis novels to very comfortable slippers you love wearing when, after encountering all those wrong books in unexpected places, you are dead tired and sad. They are comfort reads. I will revisit these stories for sure and I might dig for some new ones to read soon.

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4 Responses to Review: To The Hilt by Dick Francis

  1. Blodeuedd says:

    Hm, for some reason I can't wrap my head around it

  2. heidenkind says:

    I thought the ending was a little too pat and a bit of a let-down, too, but I loved everything leading up that. Al's the best! I like him better than Todd, I think.

  3. I agree, he was a sweetie 🙂

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