Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Jeff Hinkley – why bring him back? by Felix Francis

Front Runner is my tenth novel and the fifty-first Dick/Felix Francis book. In the first fifty there have only been two recurring lead characters. Sid Halley made his debut way back in 1965 in Odds Against. It was fifteen years before he turned up again in Whip Hand in 1980. Back for a third time in Come to Grief in 1995, he made his fourth appearance in Under Orders in 2005 and, most recently he was the protagonist of Refusal in 2013. Fortunately for him, he has aged rather less than the rest of us over the forty-eight-year period.

Apart from Sid, only Kit Fielding has made more than one appearance, in the two consecutive novels Break In and Bolt in 1985 and 1986, and that was only because my father did not have the chance to research a new lead character as he was, at the same time, also writing the official biography of Lester Piggott.

Otherwise, the general Francis rule has been: new book – new main character. As my father always said, it made filling the pages easier if there was a different lead man to describe and develop. Add to that the problem of not wanting to write books that have to be read in a specific order, and I could fully understand my father’s reluctance to make recurring characters the norm.

So, then, why have I chosen to bring back Jeff Hinkley, the hero of Damage, in Front Runner? And that’s not all – Jeff will be making a third outing in the novel I am currently writing, and who’s to say he won’t be in the next one as well, and maybe some more after that.

I have done it partly because I felt there was some unfinished business for Jeff in Damage. My editor and publisher were also keen to have Jeff back and I believed it was the time, maybe, to write a series. Most of my fellow crime-writing authors have repeating main characters, such as Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus or Peter James’s Roy Grace to name just two. Should I join them?

I have certainly found the experience interesting, if not always easy. The primary difficulty being the need to create a story that can be read in isolation from the others in the series without the need for prior knowledge from previously written works.

I believe very strongly that one’s lead character has to go on a ‘journey’ as the story progresses. To be a success, it is essential that people care about the protagonist. They don’t have to necessarily like him, but they do have to care what happens to him and also how the story unfolds around him. If readers don’t care, they will not finish the book. Hence I feel that, in each subsequent appearance, Jeff needs to have a different starting point and then move forward from there. And yet, he cannot change too much as the books, if read in reverse order of writing, would appear disjointed and unreal. Obviously, I would like everyone to enjoy the books in the same sequence as they were written but it doesn’t always work that way. Time will tell if I have it right.

So Jeff is back in Front Runner, and things in his life have changed somewhat. Lydia, his long-term girlfriend in Damage, has left him for another man and, consequently, Jeff is in considerable emotional turmoil. Add to that the fact that someone is trying to kill him for reasons unknown to him or to the reader, and there is ample scope for Jeff’s new journey.

Unlike the ‘traditional’ murder-mystery where a police detective arrives to inspect the still-warm corpse before proceeding to unravel the myriad of clues and solve the crime in the final chapter, most Francis protagonists have been amateur sleuths, usually thrown into situations from which they try to extricate themselves by finding out what the hell is happening to them – and why. However, as an undercover operative for the British Horseracing Authority, Jeff Hinkley is a professional investigator. I rather think he has to be if he’s going to be in a series. Miss Marple apart, there are very few amateur detectives likely to encounter even a single murder in their lives let alone a whole string of them. At least, as a member of the horseracing police, Jeff is likely to come across some crime and intrigue to investigate.

Not that Front Runner is all about racing. It’s not. My readers do not have to know a single thing about horses, not even which end eats and which doesn’t. The book is concerned with two-legged beings not four. Horseracing is simply the canvas against which I paint the story.

But you might just learn a thing or two about the Sport of Kings on the way.

I certainly hope so!

Front Runner by Felix Francis is published 10th September by Michael Joseph, price £18.99 in hardback

© Felix Francis 2015

Front Runner

Jeff Hinkley is back. In his role as an undercover investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, Jeff is approached by the multi-time champion jockey and friend, Dave Swinton, who is being blackmailed into purposefully losing races. The next day, Jeff narrowly avoids a painful death in a sauna, and Dave is found dead. Though the police declare it a suicide, Jeff suspects something much more sinister is at play.

As Jeff starts to uncover layer upon layer of blackmail, more attempts are made on his life – each one increasingly close to striking home. He has one relief – the beautiful Henrietta who whisks him away from his troubles and hopefully from danger to the Cayman Islands. But is he really safe? His enemies are desperate to prevent him from investigating their crimes, whatever the cost..

More information about Felix Francis and his work can be found on his website.  You can also follow him on Twitter @felix_francis.  You can also find him on Facebook.

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