In “Whip Hand,” Sid Halley returns, this time with his damaged hand replaced with a myoelectric version. He’s returned to life after the depression of the first book, but has to face his own weakness when his nemesis threatens him with his worst fears.
Francis’s use of Halley as a recurring character has a number of fascinating aspects, one of which is that the Sid Halley books were not written back to back–unlike the books about the other recurring character, Kit Fielding, which were written consecutively and both set in the same time period, the early 1980s–but rather in different decades: “Odds Against” came out in the 1960s, “Whip Hand” in the 1970s, “Come to Grief” in the 1990s, and “Under Orders” in the 2000s. Sid thus time travels in a way: in “Under Orders” he is less than 10 years older than he is in “Odds Against,” but the action is set 40 years later. This is an issue that the writers of long-running series have to contend with, which they do in different ways: Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone lives in a time warp, forever in the 1980s, while Robert B. Parker’s Spenser seems to age at about half the normal rate, so that he is, if I remember correctly, in his late 30s when the series begins in the early 1970s (he’s a Korean War vet), but 40 years later, when the last books came out, seems to be only his 50s, unless he is a very, very well preserved 75-year-old.
Anyway, Sid Halley’s time confusion is nothing unusual in the mystery genre, so you can accept it or not. “Whip Hand” is for the most part more lighthearted than “Odds Against,” as Francis’s books from the 1970s tend to be, with a cheery romance and one the main action sequences taking place in a balloon race.
In the end, though, Francis’s fascination with the limits of human endurance, physical and mental, and with our acute fragility come through with especial clarity, as they always do in the Sid Halley books, and the ending is satisfyingly gut-wrenching, showing why Sid is Francis’s favorite character. If you haven’t been bitten by the Francis bug yet, the Sid Halley series is a good place to start, and “Whip Hand” is an excellent continuation to the franchise.
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