Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Under orders

Dick Francis returns with his first new novel since the death of his wife, who was also his chief researcher.  He retired, but has been talked out of retirement.  I think he may have gotten some bad advice.

Most Francis novels are stand-alone; he's only used a couple of recurring characters in his entire writing career.  This new one brings back Sid Halley, a jockey who became an investigator when catastrophic injury ended his racing days.  Sid has been featured in four books, which almost qualifies him as a series hero.

In this book a jockey is murdered after winning a race for a trainer who was visibly angry with him afterwards.  Accusations of race-fixing fly.  A racehorse owner asks Sid to look into that angle, while the murdered man's father wants him to find the killer.  Another death seems to provide an answer, but Sid is sure it's not the right one, and his belief is reinforced when he starts to receive threats--not to himself, since it's been well-established that threats only encourage him to keep digging, but to his new girlfriend.

Well-plotted, though in hindsight I see I probably should have guessed at least one of the villains from the Law of Conservation of Characters.  At the time I just enjoyed the ride.  But the style isn't nearly as polished as I'd come to expect from Francis, and the research shows too much; a couple of the characters have an unfortunate tendency to go in for highly technical lectures instead of more natural dialogue.  Some of the characters behaved in out-of-character ways, a problem that wouldn't have arisen if this novel didn't have a cast that had appeared before.  It was pretty good, but not one of Francis's best.

Originally posted at MySpace 10/13/06 

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