FELIX FRANCIS – Dick Francis’s Gamble. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, July 2011. Berkley, premium paperback, August 2012.

   I may have the count wrong, but what I’ve come up with is 39 Dick Francis novels, plus one short story collection, followed by four collaborations with younger son Felix, then this one by Felix on his own. This and the later books have done well enough that there are seven under his belt now, as of this year. (It is generally understood that most if not all of the original Dick Francis books were collaborations with his wife Mary.)

   The reason Felix’s books keep coming out — and selling — is a simple one. He has the formula down pat, a formula that has the story’s main protagonist get into a jam, often not of his own making, but fighting back, often requiring considerable physical effort and frightful pain, before coming out on top.

   And in all of them, whether Dick Francis, a former jockey himself, or son Felix, there is a connection to the world of British horse racing. In Gamble the story is told by Nick “Foxy” Foxton, also a former jockey — one who had to retire at an early age because of a fall in his final race, breaking his neck.

   Having to find a new career for himself, Foxton becomes a member of a mid-level investment firm, where he is doing well enough that one day he may make partner. Until page one of this book, that is, which begins, “I was standing right next to Herb Kovak when he was murdered.”

   This is at a race track, but Herb had nothing to do with racing, He is, or rather was, another junior member of Foxton’s investment firm. The killer shoots Herb three times at close range before making a clean getaway. When it turns out that Herb seemed to have had no friends and had named Foxton the heir and executor to his estate, he discovers that the former had a secret life involving 94,000 pounds of unexplained credit card bills.

   This is only part of Foxton’s new set of problems. The other involves what may be a phoney investment deal in Bulgaria involving millions of euros. Either this or Herb’s shady dealings soon has a gunman on Foxton’s trail too.

   A lesser problem, but still extremely worrisome, is that his live-in girl friend suddenly seems to have a secret she is hiding from him. Another lover, he thinks. All this according to formula, and while son Felix isn’t the greatest wordsmith in the world, he knows how to ratchet up the suspense, each and every chapter to the next.

   If one might wish for something in the telling of this tale, one might wish for a protagonist with sharper wits. [WARNING: PLOT ALERT!] When a gym calls asking Foxton to come clean out Herb’s locker, and Foxton knows exactly where the key is, wouldn’t you think … well, come on. No, he doesn’t. One very good excuse is that you don’t want a book as readable as this one is to end all that soon, do you?