Monday, January 20, 2014

Come to Grief - By Dick Francis - Released in 1995

John Sidney Halley or Sid Halley makes his last appearance after three books, in Come To Grief (other books - Odds Against, Whip in Hand, Under Orders). A former jockey turned PI, he seems physically unassuming, and that he has a prosthetic hand is something that no one would ever notice.

It is this fa├žade that manages to keep under wraps the brilliant mind he has for espionage, computer hacking, even martial arts - he is never found wanting in danger. But there is a fun side to him as well - like the gambling machine he keeps in his room; he is sensitive as well, gifting a poor cancer-ridden child a fish to keep her company.

Working with horses since he was fifteen, he won championships, however he also tragically crippled his left hand - it was further damaged by a villainous character, and resulted in its amputation. Although he never seems to grudge the accident openly, he does feel bitter within about his loss.

Sid’s friendship with Ellis Quint, also a former jockey, is his solace. Ellis is now a well known chat show host with a huge fan following. On the other hand, he also befriends Rachel, who is suffering from leukemia. She has lost her thorough-bred Silverboy, who was mercilessly mutilated - this gives the child nightmares.

Unbeknownst to Sid, Ellis has a dirty secret; he enjoys torturing and mutilating animals, as a cover up, it is Quint himself who sheds light on these horrific acts, making it known that the killings happen around the full moon. The animals’ front left hooves are amputated, repeatedly on a full moon, for months together - Sid bizarrely mirrors this with loss of his own  left hand.

Sid Halley steps in, and the facts are horrifying, he must implicate his best friend in this crime - and as a result, the media, police and community are all up in arms against Halley, given Quint’s popularity. He must quell his own doubts about the kind of man Ellis is, the fact that the two are like brothers and best of friends - he has an uphill task convincing even himself of his friend’s crime! The only thing that keeps him going is his friendship for Rachel and the many owners whose blameless horses have borne the brunt of sheer cruelty.

As a result of all the bloodshed, Sid has nightmares about his ghost limb, and the hand he has left. Despite attempts made on his life, he fights to bring the perpetrator to justice. The book opens with a court scene, where the trial of Ellis Quint is about to begin. The chief witness for prosecution is Sid, testifying against his friend. All the events are in flashback.

Sid has a strong case built up against Quint, but the law prevents him from discussing the case with the media or in public, since it is sub judice. Taking advantage of his silence, yellow journalism has a field day, especially vicious in its treatment is a tabloid called The Pump. Sid traces its vitriolic outburst against him, back to a relationship between Ellis and tabloid’s owner, a business tycoon. And then there is a horrific scene where Sid is caught and in danger of being killed.

The novel won an Edgar  and Silver Dagger for Francis, a must read, though best avoided by adolescents!

Come to Grief - By Dick Francis - Released in 1995

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