A while back I read Dick Francis’ mystery, Decider, and decided I’d be reading more. So I picked up the collection Triple Crown (comprising Dead Cert, Nerve, and For Kicks) and read it last week. It was an intriguing reading experience for me.
I have a hard time pinning down what’s so compelling in a Dick Francis mystery. Most of the stories revolve around the sport of racing (with the corruption that racetrack betting invites), and that’s a field of endeavor in which I’ve never had any interest at all (though I’ll admit that if I have to watch a horse race, I’d prefer a steeplechase, which is the kind of racing Francis concentrates on, at least in the novels I’ve read). I can’t say he’s a brilliant stylist—in fact I’d characterize him as the kind of author who disappears totally, which isn’t a bad way to get your reader invested in your story. I can’t say he’s especially skilled at crafting vivid characters. And yet I found myself horizontal on the couch for hours, turning page after page, absolutely under the spell of the stories.
Dead Cert, I understand, was Francis’ first published novel. It’s good, but I think he was still feeling his way. Nerve was his second book, and by then he’d already found his pace. This was possibly the most satisfying tale of revenge I’ve ever read. And For Kicks amazed me. It was the compelling adventure of a man who takes a dangerous job for money, endures great suffering and violence to complete it, and in the end learns something about himself that changes his life.
I think what I particularly like is that Francis writes about manly men. Men blessed, and burdened, with strength, integrity, and courage, Churchillian in their resolve never to give up.
What a joy to discover an author you didn’t know before, who has a long list of published works you can look forward to!
Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is West Oversea.