A good prequel should re-contextualize what you think you know about the events that come after it, but also, it should be able to stand on its own, so newcomers can understand everything without any prior knowledge.
Not everything lends itself to prequel possibilities, however, such as Chequered Justice which, good as it was, was almost entirely self contained and never really struck me as warranting the creation of an entire backstory.
But one has been written in the form of Dark Horse, which unnecessarily fills the void prior to the events featured in Chequered Justice with a chronological account of the protagonist’s life – Will Middleton.
And therein lies the problem: it’s not that interesting.
Author John Bartlett is keen to reiterate that like Chequered Justice, everything contained within this book is inspired by true events. But even so, Middleton and the world around him exist within the realms of fiction, and thus, Bartlett had free reign to give this more zest and a greater sense of direction than it does.
Were it a true autobiography I would be much more forgiving as it is unfair to criticise the path someone’s life has taken. But it’s not and it lacks focus and aimlessly plods along, regularly going nowhere in an attempt to develop the Middleton character.
The early chapters are a tiresome list of the mischief and mayhem that occurred in his formative years, before then leaving school to build up a business empire only to jack it all in for no discernible reason to become a racing driver.
Yes, there are two brief mentions – in the space of 20 chapters – that showcase the merest glimmer of interest in motorsport, but there is never an overriding sense that he ever wanted to be a racer and it completely fails to convey what his motivations are when he suddenly decides to change career paths.
So anyway, after much filler we suddenly find an inexperienced Middleton racing in the Formula Ford category, but then that goes awry and before you know it, he decides to take up sportscar racing in the World Endurance Championship instead.
And then, for the final third of the book it becomes nothing more than a series of setbacks and difficulties on- and off-track, with the book’s opening legal wrangle – its main plot device – revisited and resolved in the space of a couple of chapters, leaving little motivation to see Dark Horse through to the end.
It lacks any of the suspense and intrigue that its predecessor had and its only saving grace is Bartlett’s ability to brilliantly convey the thoughts and emotions that occur behind the wheel of a race car.
But other than that, Dark Horse is over-written, under-subbed, and is a massive disappointment next to the excellent Chequered Justice.
Hardcover: 375 pages
Publisher: Amazing Journeys (30 Nov 2012)