Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450
Dead Cert, Francis’s first published novel and his first attempt at fiction, is written in the first person from the point of view of a jockey turned amateur detective because wicked individuals intrude into his life and threaten to kill him. The novel is full of action and episodes in which the hero is subjected to incredible torture, from which he seems to recover with superhuman ease. Having established this prototype, Francis has hardly deviated from it in the novels he has published since. He has stated: “I write in the first person because that’s how I like to describe things. . . . As they’re written in the first person, a lot of each book describes what’s in the hero’s mind. It would be difficult to portray on screen.”
In Dead Cert, the hero is a young amateur jockey named Alan York, whose father is a South African multimillionaire. The book opens in the middle of a steeplechase at Maidenhead. York is trailing Admiral, ridden by his best friend Bill Davidson, when he sees the unbeatable horse, the dead certainty of the title, trip and his friend take a fatal fall. York is the only person who has seen a wire deliberately stretched across the top of a hurdle, clearly to prevent the favorite from winning.
The fact that York, in second place, becomes the winner attracts attention from the police, who also suspect that he is having an affair with Davidson’s wife. Francis provides a strong “push-pull” motivation for York to investigate the crime: to find out who was responsible for his friend’s death and to clear himself of suspicion. Although York is warned off his investigation and subjected to torture, he persists until he exposes the mastermind’s identity and destroys the entire ring of crooked taxi drivers.
York’s relationship with beautiful, aristocratic Kate Ellery-Penn helps him discover the mastermind’s identity. Dead Cert also established the convention of the love affair featured in most of Francis’s novels. His early descriptions of such relationships were inhibited and chaste. Despite his brilliant description of physical sensations, such as the pain of injured jockeys, Francis does not titillate readers with descriptions of torrid passions; however, his handling of sexual relationships has become more open in later works, as evidenced by the hero’s sensual yearning for his lover in Under Orders.
Critics have praised the fine writing in the long sequence of closing chapters in which the hero rides a thoroughbred horse across the English countryside, jumping fences and hedges and darting through motor traffic in an effort to elude the murderous taxi drivers who are receiving radio orders from the criminal mastermind.
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