"Four of us drove together to Cheltenham races on the day that Martin Stukely died there from a fall in a steeplechase."
It seemed to be a great race, right up to the point where Martin’s horse stumbled, threw him, landed on him, and then rolled all over him trying to get to its feet. With such a graphic beginning, you might almost expect that the rest of the book would have something to do with that death. Well, it does and it doesn’t.
It has more to do with a tape that Martin passed on to Gerard Logan, the narrator of this story. Gerard is a fan of the races, but this is one of those Dick Francis novels where the central character has an unusual profession and where his craft has a lot to do with how the story turns out. Gerard is a glassblower whose skills are just beginning to earn him wide recognition.
Earlier Francis heroes have been wine sellers, toy makers, painters and builders, in addition to having professions connected to the racing world.
Within 24 hours Gerard’s shop has been robbed and the mysterious tape is gone. Video tape robberies have also taken place at his home and at the home of Martin’s family, where Bon-Bon and the kids were actually gassed. Whatever they wanted, they didn’t get it, for their next move is to assault Gerard outside his shop and nearly break his wrists before he is rescued by a friendly neighbour with a pair of Dobermans.
Perhaps Gerard had spooked them by that time, because he was already exploring around the edges of this mystery, quizzing his friend’s racing valet, Eddie Payne, who had handed him the tape in the first place. This move brought him to the attention of Payne’s extended, and nefarious, family, and put him in come considerable personal danger.
Gerard is used to a certain degree of tension in his life. In order to be blown and shaped, glass has to be kept in a furnace “at never less than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit”, and cooled in special annealing furnaces in order to prevent the inner stresses from exploding the finished pieces. This significant information is repeated several times, for reasons which will become obvious.
Gerard isn’t quite so used to emotional tension. It is slightly amusing when his dead friend’s wife starts to take a proprietary interest in him. He is warned about this by one of the secondary characters in the story. Of more importance is the sudden development of a mutual romantic interest with Detective Constable Catherine Dodd, the investigating officer in both his robbery and assault case.
Much of the story is consumed by Gerard’s investigative efforts, which involve him in several close calls, and cause him to meet a number of interesting people. I was left wondering why he didn’t simply tell Catherine who is was that attacked him outside his shop once he had figured out their identities, but that would have kept us from moving on with the rest of the story, so I’m not going to quibble about it too much. A typical Francis hero likes to clean up his own messes, and I’m sure I would have learned more about his decision making process if I had been reading the book rather than listening to this tightly abridged reading.
Shattered makes a great travel book, by the way. We listened to it quite contentedly for half or our Christmas trip to the big city. Martin Jarvis gave it a fine reading. I see from Amazon.ca that it is also available in an unabridged reading, as well as in paperback and hardcover.
Fan websites speculate that this might be the 80 (at the time) year old thriller writer’s last book. His wife, who was an integral partner in his writing process, died last fall, and there’s a feeling that he might not carry on without her assistance. If this is the case, fans can take refuge in the knowledge that there are 41 novels out there. I’ve read only half a dozen myself and listened to probably twice that many. I’ve never been disappointed yet.