FORGOTTEN BOOKS: DEAD RECKONING BY SAM LLEWELLYN!
There have been many pretenders to the throne of Dick Francis. For most, the comparison falls far short. A few, however, manage to understand the Franics plot and character structure and do a credible, if finally forgettable, job of storytelling. There are also a rare few who capture the Francis magic and make it their own.
Sam Llewellyn’s yacht racing thrillers are an excellent example of a writer capturing the essence of Francis and channeling it through their own creation. Dead Reckoning was not Llewellen’s first novel – he’d previously written a number of non-fiction titles and a massive pot-boiler (Hell Bay) – but it was his first mystery. In and of itself, it is a good novel, capturing voice, character, and plotting all in the Francis mold, but it is also the work of a writer in progress. In later titles, such as Death Roll, Blood Knot, and Riptide, Llewellyn honed his craft to a point where he broke away from the Francis comparisons to stand on his own.
As a side note, trying to emulate Francis is something I attempted myself. I literally tore apart a Francis paperback, page by page, laid it all out on the floor of my office, and worked to figure out how Francis paced and plotted his tales. The result was my novel Chapel of the Ravens (set in the soccer world). One of the coolest moments of my career came when I received a letter of praise from Francis (who I did not know at the time) after he read the novel while vacationing in Barbados. To this day, I still don’t know how he happened to get his hands on a copy to read, but I was grateful for the kudos.
Charlie Agutter’s in serious trouble. When one of the sailing yachts he designed, the Aesthete, breaks up in a storm – killing his brother, Hugo, and a companion – the ugly rumor emerges that Charlie’s revolutionary rudder design caused the accident. Word is spreading like wildfire, and his contracts are being suspended.
For Charlie, an up-and-coming yacht designer, the stakes couldn’t be higher: his entire career is in jeopardy, and his brother is dead. Hoping to persuade the powerful members of Pulteney’s yachting scene that his rudder design is sound. Charlie invites them on a demonstration spin aboard the Ae, twin sister to the doomed Aesthete. Charlie has planned a rough test – but not the near disaster that lies in wait. Who is trying to sink Charlie’s reputation? And why?
Charlie’s search for a killer leads him into the highest reaches of the yachting scene, where fortunes are spent to win races, where a quest for glory can lure someone to deadly thoughts.
With a strong sense of place and authentic details about the world of offshore yacht racing, this edge-of-the-seat tale races to a stunning climax. Dead Reckoning is a terrific story that rivets and rewards mystery fans much in the same way that Dick Francis takes them into the winner’s circle at the track.
IN LLEWELLYN’S OWN WORDS:
As you have probably worked out by now, the sea is one of the ruling passions of my life. While cruising and racing in boats ranging from dinghies to megayachts, I noticed that they have a kind of pressure-cooking effect on the emotions. It might be the trivial fury of someone whose last chocolate biscuit has been stolen when she is two thousand miles from the nearest shop. It might be the thwarted ambition of a man who has invested millions in a giant yacht, and has been cheated in a race. Or it might be the usual levers - greed, jealousy and spite - beefed up when surrounded by water.
So, I wrote a series of sailing thrillers, set in and around the fishing village of Pulteney, on the southwest coast of England. Pulteney is a village once inhabited by fishermen, since bought up by bankers. It is the place you keep your boat for the winter, probably to have it refitted under the benevolent guidance of Charlie Agutter, local yacht designer, whisky drinker, and occasional detective. Pulteney is a place where you meet people who will be the other side of the world next week, and hear their stories. The object of these books is to give you all the thrills of yachting with none of the excess moisture, and to keep your heart in your mouth long past your bedtime.
Llewellyn’s last fiction novel, Maelstrom, was published in 2001. His lengthy output, however, is well worth seeking out – strong characters, fast moving plots, and enviable readability.