Thursday, May 29, 2008

Three by Dick Francis

In the wake of consolidating my and my mother's mystery collections, I discovered some appalling gaps in the collection and promptly set about replacing some cherished favorites via BookMooch. Among these were some of the best titles in Dick Francis's oeuvre.

Nerve is the story of Rob Finn, an up-and-coming young jockey, who learns that someone is systematically destroying jockeys' careers and takes revenge. Francis is never really at his best when delving into psychology, but the point where Rob understands exactly how alike he and the villain are is riveting. I also really like the romance in this one; unlike in some of his other books, it feels central to Rob's character.

In Forfeit , racing reporter James Tyrone discovers a cheating bookmaker who makes money through hyping horses and then preventing them from running. Ty takes extraordinary measures to protect the latest horse in the string and his wife, crippled from polio. Ty's relationship with his wife -- complicated by a guilt-ridden affair with the biracial Gail -- and the minute depiction of their domestic economy are truly touching. I always think of Francis as adding sex to his books much later, and reluctantly (I envision his publisher saying, "Dick, horses running around in circles is all very well, but can't you throw in a few naked girls?"), but here he tackles the subject with some frankness and without the embarrassment that seems to characterize later efforts.

Daniel Roke, in For Kicks, owns a successful stud farm in Australia, has three loving younger siblings, and is bored to tears. It takes an undercover investigation of a novel form of horse doping in England to teach him what he's made of and what he really wants in life. Villains in Francis's books are often soulless and creepy, but this pair are serious contenders for the worst in show.

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