Saturday, February 20, 2010

BookLook Tribute to Dick Francis


“Silks” by Dick Francis
Today the BookLook column is a tribute to the Late Great Dick Francis who passed away on February 14th. Formerly a jockey for the Queen Mother, Francis turned to writing and produced 42 mystery novels which sold more than 60 million copies. Not bad for a second career. Born October 31st (born and died on a holiday!) 1920, he wrote almost a book a year featuring horses and race tracks. His books occupy two shelves of honor in our den, and have traveled with family and friends all over the world for vacation reading. His first novel “Dead Cert” is the place to start your reading if you are a newcomer. “Even Money” came out in September and was reviewed in a past column. I can’t wait to read “Crossfire” which is scheduled for release later this year.

“Silks” by Dick Francis was written with the help of his son Felix. Over the age of 85, after writing more than 40 books, winning the Edgar Award three times for best novel, and many more awards to list, he was entitled to a co-writer. I am actually a fan of co-writers for old authors who are over-the-hill, past their sell-by date, ancient, and prone to wander. I wonder who will help me with this book review column when I begin to do some mind meandering…?

“Silks” does not disappoint Dick Francis fans. It contains all the important elements of his entertaining storytelling style. The good guy is really good, the bad guy uses a baseball bat to beat up people so he is really bad, and the victims are pitiful. There is plenty of race course action at Sandown which includes fighting, falling and felony. There is also plenty of courtroom action at London’s Old Bailey which also includes fighting, falling and felony. The fighting is a bit more graphic than some past Francis novels and has a real menace behind it at times. The good guy falls off of horses and may be falling in love with the lovely leading lady. The felonies involve illegal betting, illegal intimidation, illegal beating and the very illegal stabbing with a pitchfork.

Geoffrey Mason, our hero, is a British barrister who is also an amateur steeplechase jockey. When one of his fellow riders Steve Mitchell is accused of murdering another jockey by driving a pitchfork through his chest, he calls Mason to defend him. Threatening phone calls warn Mason that he must lose the case and be sure that Steve Mitchell is convicted of murder. The evidence is overwhelming and Mason struggles to find any clue as to who the real killer could be. The intimidation escalates as he is attacked and his father threatened. There is a sense that this is a real problem in the justice system today and an important part of the story.

Of course this is a Dick Francis so justice prevails during a Perry Mason courtroom drama, but it is a satisfying end to a frustrating situation. If you have not read any novels by Francis you should start at the beginning then read “Straight”, “Reflex” or “Risk” which were written earlier when the author was at the top of his game. As one of his loyal fans, I will wait with great anticipation to read his final book “Crossfire” and I know I will love it and lend it out from my bookshelf to those who need a good vacation read.

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