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To the Hilt


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YA‘Alexander, a reclusive young painter living in the Scottish Highlands, returns to London to oversee his stepfather's business when the older man has a heart attack. Both the chief financial officer and the firm's money have disappeared. Many twists occur before the conclusion of the story. Many teens will identify with Al as he doesn't quite fit in with the rest of his elite family. They will laugh at his assistant, a delightful private eye whose personality and unique methods of operation are efficient and entertaining. The plot moves quickly and there is abundant white space per page. Explanations of Scottish history are provided within the narrative. Although horses and a race are involved, their role is not as important as in other novels by this author.‘Claudia Moore, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA

Francis, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and author of such works as Wild Horses (Audio Reviews, LJ 3/1/96), shows how he earned that title with To the Hilt, his 35th novel. This mystery begins in Scotland where we meet "Mad Al" Kinloch, nephew to the Earl of Kinloch and guardian of the "honor of the Kinlochs," the hilt of the ceremonial sword of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Al has chosen a different way of life, preferring the solitude of a deserted shepherd's hut in the wild Monadhiliath Mountains on his uncle's estate. Known to the rest of his family as weird and eccentric, Al secretly prospers through the sale of his paintings. He has also gained a reputation as someone who knows how to keep treasures hidden, a talent that will cost him dearly. Superbly narrated by Simon Prebble, To the Hilt is another fast-paced mystery from a master of the form; highly recommended for all public libraries.‘Theresa Connors, Arkansas Technological Univ., Russellville

The "hilt" of Francis's delightful 35th thriller refers to the jewel-encrusted, solid gold handle of the ceremonial sword of Scotland's would-be king, Bonnie Prince Charlie. A descendant of the Scottish earl to whom the prince gave the hilt, narrator Alexander Kinloch lives in an unelectrified bothy in the Scottish mountains, supporting himself through his paintings. Al's keen visual sense allows him to draw the faces of the four thugs who beat him and tear apart his home in the opening chapter. "Where is it?" they demand, establishing the leitmotif of concealed objects that Francis weaves through the plot. Hard on the beating, Al must rush to London to comfort his mother in the aftermath of her husband's heart attack. Al learns that his stepfather's brewery is about to collapse because the finance director has absconded with millions of pounds. In desperation, the business affairs of the brewery are turned over to Al, though he pines for solitude, his easel and the mountains. A Francis novel wouldn't be complete without thoroughbred racing; in fact, Al's estranged wife is a race trainer, and one of the many things Al has to hide is Golden Malt, his stepfather's steeplechaser, slated to run in the King Alfred Gold Cup‘unless Al's spiteful stepsister can steal the horse first. The diverse plot threads tie up neatly, but not before Al achieves an understated emotional breakthrough with his wife and with his undemonstrative mother, endures gruesome torture with hardly a murmur and wins his stepsister's trust. Likable characters abound: a PI who's a master of disguise; the earl, "Himself," who trusts Al to hide the ancestral hilt; a solvency practioner whose flowered dresses and soft hair help persuade bankers to give the brewery a second chance. Earlier this year, the Mystery Writers of America honored Francis as a Grand Master; this novel again shows why. BOMC featured alternate; author tour. (Sept.)

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