Slicing Through The Field

Dick Francis' swan song could have been so much more.

Perhaps it's just me, but I came away from the last Dick Francis book a little disappointed. While "Second Wind" was certainly a well-written thriller, it lacked the character and atmosphere that imbued the early Francis novels (remember "Break In" and "Reflex"?) And so, I approached "Shattered" with a fair amount of caution, unsure what to expect of this tale of a glassblower in extremis.

The verdict? Good and bad. While "Shattered" is certainly better than "Second Wind", it still fails to meet the standard I've come to expect from Francis, and will therefore not receive the usual glowing recommendation. The story revolves around Gerard Logan, a glassblower, who is violently attacked on New Year's Eve 2000, the same day that his friend, Martin Stukely, a jockey, dies of a fall at Cheltenham Racecourse. The attackers are looking for a videotape that Martin left for Logan, a videotape which contains a priceless secret.

Since Logan doesn't have the tape, and since he's not the type to lie down and take it, he begins a little investigation of his own...and soon comes face to face with the villain of the piece, a sadistic bookmaker's wife who is willing to kill for the tape and the secret it contains. With a little help from his friends (and a couple of ferocious dogs), Logan tracks down the secret behind the tape, and the stage is soon set for a violent confrontation between Logan and his enemies.

As always, Francis fills his story with nuggets of interesting information - "Shattered" is full of numerous tidbits about the art of glassblowing - and his character development is excellent. While Logan is not a character on par with Sid Halley, he is nonetheless human enough to win your affection and interest, and to cheer for him in the final, violent chapters. The villains, though, are pale and uninteresting, and lack sufficient colour to arouse your dislike. I also found the contrivance of the multiple videotapes somewhat silly, although there's no doubt that it added to the anticipation of finding out the mysterious secret preserved on it.

"Shattered" is apparently Francis' swan song - he will not be writing any more novels. Perhaps the saddest thing is that it could have been better.

This article was first published on 14 Mar 2001.