Most kidnap-thrillers suffer from pacing problems—with the familiar basics (the snatch, the ransom demand, the drop, etc,) strung out rather too predictably. So Francis, that canny pro, serves up three kidnap cases in a compact, all-tension, overlapping triptych: all the cases feature the same sleuth, and all (more surprisingly) feature the same evil mastermind. The novel opens mid-kidnap in Bologna: jockey Alessia Cenci has been abducted; her doting tycoon-father has agreed to the ransom; but, despite the presence of narrator Andrew Douglas, a kidnap-specialist from "Liberty Market Ltd.," the payoff has been bungled—with Italian cops too eager to nab the nappers. So, while the cops duel with two minor members of the kidnap team, Andrew quietly helps Cenci Sr. to placate the angry Mastermind, arranging for a new payoff: the money is paid, Alessia is found alive (if deeply traumatized), and Andrew's shrewd deductions help the Italian cops to capture most of the nappers. . . but not the anonymous Mastermind. Then, back in England, where Andrew spends his free time with the slowly-recovering Alessia (at a horse-training farm), case #2 erupts in Brighton—as the toddler-son of a coldhearted racehorse-owner is grabbed from a resort beach. This time, however, Andrew and an ex-SAS colleague don't just supervise the ransom-payment; instead, they manage (somewhat too easily?) to locate the kidnappers' hideout, rescue the tot, and grab the locally hired culprits. . . but, again, not the mastermind. Could the two kidnaps be connected? Working from a few nicely teasing clues, Andrew thinks they could. And indeed they are—as Andrew discovers when he flies to Washington, D.C., to handle the kidnapping there of the British Jockey Club's senior steward: Andrew himself is soon kidnapped by the Mastermind. . . with a taut escape/detection/shootout finale. As usual, it's easy to fault Francis for sentimentality—in the sweet Andrew/Alessia romance, in the tearjerking moments during and after the toddler kidnap. This time, too, there's virtually no racetrack detail—while goody-goody Andrew is less interesting than many Francis heroes. Yet somehow none of these drawbacks really interferes with the unique grab of Francis' plain, tough, tender suspense-magic: less truly authentic than other kidnap novels, this one nonetheless tops them all—with a streamlined mixture of mystery, heart (kidnap-victim psychology), and nonstop action.
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