In “For Kicks” Francis continues to demonstrate the mastery of the horse-thriller genre he established in “Nerve.” Even more so than “Nerve,” “For Kicks” is slightly bizarre, unrealistic wish fulfillment, but that in no way diminishes its charm–in fact, it is one of the key factors in its charm. Who doesn’t want to run off from their life from time to time in order to go have exciting and important adventures? The difference is that Daniel Roke, the hero of “For Kicks,” actually does so.
An Australian stud farm manager, Daniel is invited to go undercover to investigate a mysterious string of doping cases in England. Evil deeds ensue, and the plot Daniel uncovers will horrify any horse lover or anyone with any sort of a conscience at all.
Where Francis excels is in the pacing of his story, starting off slowly, almost innocuously, and then building to a nail-biting conclusion. Where he excels even more is in the psychological development of his hero, who rather impulsively gives up a life of duty in order to go on this mission, and who has to shed his air of competence and command in order to fit in as a lowly, not-very-good stableboy, and who has to undergo humiliation and privation in order to uncover the truth. In the end, Daniel realizes that:
“I wasn’t the stuff of martyrs; and the prosperous business had already driven me once into a pit of depression.
“I knew now clearly what I was, and what I could do.
“I remembered the times when I had been tempted to give up, and hadn’t. I remembered the moment when […spoiler!] my mind made an almost muscular leap to the truth.”
Daniel’s “muscular leap” to the truth is such a vivid description of the experience those of us who figure things out have, that the book is worth five stars for that alone. I’ve always been sorry that Daniel was not brought back as a repeat character, like Kit Fielding and Sid Halley, but perhaps that would dull his luster as a hidden thrill-seeker, unable to enjoy a safe, prosperous life and needing to lie, cheat, and steal, not to mention commit violence, in order to feel alive and fulfilled, no matter how much he knows that to be irrational. I can’t exactly say that “For Kicks” is Francis’s absolutely best work, but it’s incredibly enjoyable and will deliver its kicks again and again.
Just a reminder that The Breathing Sea I is shortlisted for the Literary category in The 50 Best Indie Books of 2017. Votes are much appreciated and can be cast here!
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