Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Proof (Published in 1984) - Fake liquor and murders - Authored by Dick Francis

Thirty two, handsome and eligible - Tony Beach, entrepreneur, wine connoisseur, equestrian enthusiast. Widower since six months. His livelihood is a mixture of retail and outdoor catering of drinks - and, Jack Hawthorn, horse race trainer asks him to organize one of his victory-dos.  Jimmy, Jack’s secretary discusses with Tony, that his boss may have been served spurious liquor by one of Jack’s owners - Larry Trent, and wants to know if Beach has the expertise to tell a genuine scotch from a fake (the Laphroaig, malt from Islay, says the label, not the taste!). The malt distraction aside, all else seems to be going well at Jack’s party, when the laughter turns to screams as a horsebox breaks in and buries people, taking the marquee down with the guests in it! No one was driving, it stood alone, and after awhile, the sound of neighing drowned the sounds outside. An important Sheikh is killed; Jack and Jimmy are severely injured as is Flora, Jack’s wife. Sadly, Larry Trent is killed.
An investigator later discloses that the restaurant that Larry had owned was under the scanner for selling spurious liquor - especially the famed Laphroaig isn’t what it claims to be, more of grain whisky than malt. When Tony accompanies the investigating officer to the Silver Moon dance, he tastes the said malt and pronounces his judgment, after which the officer prohibits the sale of alcohol in the restaurant. Tony also learns that before his death, Larry had bragged that he could pass off substandard booze for the real stuff. The duo meet Paul Young the company representative, who is flummoxed and taken aback at the charges Detective Sergeant Ridger is filing, but puts up a brave front. The investigator (Mr. Wilson) grills Tony about his whereabouts and what he saw on the day of the tragedy, did he see anyone other than the four year old child besides the horsebox? Was there a possibility that someone else could’ve been in the horsebox as it rolled downhill, crushing the Sheikh?




When Flora and Tony investigate the prints in the horsebox, they are struck by the fact that many of the prints are those of a child - could the little boy have managed to finally live out his childish fantasy of driving a big car, and could he have mistakenly released the brake that cost eight lives? Meanwhile, the Silver Moondance has been looted and plundered - when Tony goes to find out what’s actually transpired, he is met with Ridger’s dark silhouette in the basement, near the wine cellars - the wine list and bottles are missing, no liqueurs, beers, malts or any alcohol is left in the restaurant.
In an office, Tony finds Paul Young in a state of unconsciousness, and another two corpses in the office - one is that of a constable, seated on a chair, head between his legs, and the other of a man, on the floor, his head and neck encased in plaster of Paris, identified as the wine waiter - Zarac. An intriguing read, Proof is one of Francis’s finer novels, engaging and entertaining. Loaded with interesting facts about wines and liquor, it is also a book that uplifts the reader in terms of Tony coming to accept that his inferiority is only a figment of his imagination, in fact, he is brave and is a hero.

Proof (Published in 1984) - Fake liquor and murders - Authored by Dick Francis

Twice Shy (Published in 1981) - Story in 2 parts, 14 years in between - Authored by Dick Francis

Twice Shy is narrated by John and William Derry, in two parts.

John Derry is head of the Physics Department at the West Ealing School, ‘with four masters and two technicians under my name.’ He follows innovative and somewhat unorthodox ways of teaching, which include getting an air gun into class to teach the students a lesson in speed! John has been married, eight years, to Sarah; they feel little attraction for each other and the marriage is like the many we see around us - for name sake’s only. For a young man of thirty three, Derry seems sounds dour, but is actually a solid, dependable guy. There are no offspring, but John has a much younger brother - William who is fifteen years old, tucked away at an expensive boarding school, thanks to a wealthy inheritance. Where is the trademark Francis horses? Well, William wants to be a jockey!
The teacher’s travails begin when his friend Peter hands over deceptively innocent audio music tapes - three of them, for safekeeping. Peter’s wife Donna is having psychological problems, serious ones - she’s stolen a baby - and to make all else worse, he is killed in an explosion! The tapes are far from musical, they are actually a coded computer language, used for betting by a gambler and criminal called Liam O’Rourke. After Peter’s sad demise, two low-lives land up at his doorstep - Angelo and Harry Gilbert, who demand that he handover the tapes to him - they want their hands on the tapes to find out details of the system that bets only on winning horses.




The first half of the book narrated by John Derry is and account of how he tries to safeguard the tapes, dodging the deadly duo and also multi tasking, i. e trying to unravel the secret behind the demand for the tapes. As luck would have it, time runs out for the criminals, and they are both sentenced to fourteen years in prison.
This is the second half of the book, narrated by William Derry, when the criminals have done time. Meanwhile, Jonathan migrates to the US, and takes up a teaching job there. Will, on the other hand, gives in to his love for horses and becomes a successful jockey, he retires when he gets a tad taller and heavier to ride. He then transitions to become a racing manager for a well to do horse owner. He also discovers that Angelo , for some reason believes it is Will who has been the thorn in his side, and the cause for all the bad stuff happening to him - therefore, obviously, Will deserves to die!
Twice Shy is written in the mystery form of Le Carre and PD James, it is Francis’s nineteenth novel. Although the plot is straightforward, the added dimension of the fourteen years works as an uplifting perspective. It is also the inspiration for a film by the same name, directed by Deirdre Friel and released in 1989. The screenplay was jointly written by Dick Francis and Miles Henderson. An interesting read, somewhat bumpy owing to the trappings of all mystery forms of writing and the aspect of technology in the ‘80s progressing towards the ‘90s - not a smooth transition there; even so, a good book on a rainy day.

Twice Shy (Published in 1981) - Story in 2 parts, 14 years in between - Authored by Dick Francis

Monday, July 28, 2014

Break In (Published in 1985) - Defending his family - Authored by Dick Francis

He is gearing up for a three mile steeplechase - the Sunday Towncrier Trophy (which took place on a Saturday, and was given news coverage on Sunday). His horse was North Face, winner of thirty eight races, thirty seven of which have been with Kit Fielding. As he is preoccupied with thoughts of the race, his sister comes in to meet him - one look and Kit is aware that Holly, who hates to drive, hasn’t come to visit , but drove one hundred and fifty miles from Newmarket because something was wrong. However, prone to superstition before a big race, he doesn’t encourage her to confide in him just yet; instead he asks her to wager all the money she has on No. Eight, and buy herself a drink with what’s left. With a promise to solve her problem, Kit - the older twin, takes her leave.
After a moody start, North Face does come out with flying colors – ‘like an arrow from nowhere’ - and now Kit is focused on finding out what Holly’s problem is. This time its three yearlings that Holly’s husband has purchased and is unable to pay for - the local gossip rag The Daily Flag has printed the news that Robertson ‘Bobby’ Allardeck, horse trainer and son of the tycoon Mallard Allardeck is in over his head, and Daddy isn’t going to rescue him. The threats start coming in, as Bobby is unable to make payments and obviously Holly is concerned for the safety of her husband.




The couple cannot consider suing the paper as they lack the financial means to do so - Kit is advised that they should ask instead for a public apology and retraction of the article. Owing to the bank loans, Bobby has no future in the house or property, as it is being viewed as security by the bank; however, amidst the hullaballoo, Holly discovers they are going to be parents, and after the initial reservations, the mood is of quiet celebration.
Jamie Grave is not giving up and tries every trick to ‘steal’ his horses back, but the plans are foiled by the wily Kit Fielding. Bobby and Kit’s relationship becomes one of mutual respect as they cover each other’s backs. Allardeck Sr. ignores his son’s plight stubbornly, eyeing the knighthood then lordship - in order to keep his prospects high, he donates most of his money generously to charities. As the mystery around Bobby’s troubles starts to unravel, Kit finds out that the vicious attacks by the press are actually Maynard Allardeck’s doing - this comes as a hurtful surprise to the family.
Dick Francis’s knowledge of horses and the familiar environ of racetracks comes to the fore as the novel progresses - his ease of narrative and simplicity in language with a touch of the poignant - are all well balanced and enthralling. This is his twenty fifth novel and is a favorite with readers, especially as Kit Fielding as the main character, engages the audience with his straightforward and honest approach to problems; he is at once astute and sensitive - as can been seen in his dealings with sister Holly and lover Danielle. An entertaining read from a clean hearted, well experienced story teller!

Break In (Published in 1985) - Defending his family - Authored by Dick Francis

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Banker (Published in 1982) - Authored by Dick Francis, about a murder and a banker

Never one to disappoint, Francis couples equine mystery and white collar fraud in the Banker. The story spans three years. Timothy Ekaterin is a banker at the Paul Ekaterin Merchant Bank Ltd, great grandson of the founder. He is met with the ludicrous sight of his sensible boss Gordon Michael, ‘one of the steadiest banking brains in London’ - standing in his pinstripe suit (what's wrong with that?) - in a fountain in the forecourt. As he helps the delirious man out of the watery abode, Gordon keeps mumbling something about the people with white faces who need to be standing alongside him in the fountain. A bewildered Tim drives him home, where his wife Judith discloses the fact that Gordon is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.
And so begins Tim’s sojourn with decision making and risk taking on behalf of his indisposed boss. He starts by approving the loan for five million pounds for the purchase of a thoroughbred champion called Sandcastle. The bank is in trouble and he must ensure that the reputation the family has built over generations is not at stake, despite the risks stacked up against him, in this case, the prospect of profits is equally high. He consults with top breeders who vouch for Sandcastle’s champion genes.
Trouble begins when the horse, which is put out to stud, fathers foals that are malformed. On the personal front, he feels a growing camaraderie with the horse’s owner - Oliver Knowles and his daughter, Ginnie. His investigation leads him into the world of genetic altering drugs and subterfuge. Also, Oliver stands to lose everything as the value of his investment in Sandcastle plummets. An equally devious subplot is taking form as a serial murderer and rapist is on the rampage, and his victims are young women from neighboring stud farms. The horse’s owner’s daughter is found murdered, her mangled remains dumped by the fence, a bottle of dog shampoo found on her person.




Although the plot develops over three years, Francis is able to make the journey smooth for the reader, and one does not feel the weight of the years. Timothy is the quintessential Francis hero - dependable and principled, gifted with great presence of mind. There is also the undercurrent of Tim’s feelings for Judith, his boss’s wife, who is also strongly attracted to him, but the two never once cross the line and make advances towards one another. The highlight of the story is also Francis’s treatment of women characters in the novel - they are strong, lovable, with shades of human nature to make them more believable. Judith Michael - his love interest, Pen Warren - a respected pharmacist, Ursula Young - a bloodstock agent - all women with separate energies in Tim’s life.
The characters are all a real picture of the many we see all around us - some straightforward, others dark. Himself a jockey, Dick Francis has amazing insight into the world of horseracing and horses - especially the dark underbelly of money and violence that plague the beloved animals and their fates. Herbal healers, evil veterinarians, shady business deals, insider information being leaked - all add to the milieu of the story as it progresses over the rather longish period of time.

Banker (Published in 1982) - Authored by Dick Francis, about a murder and a banker

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Danger (Published in 1983) - About kidnapping, authored by Dick Francis

Five weeks, three days, ten hours - that’s how long it’s been since twenty three year old Alessia Cenci has gone missing, aka kidnapped. Andrew Douglas, partner, Liberty Market Ltd, an insurance company, where he is adviser on kidnappings - is the man sent to bring back the young jockey and deliver the ransom, in Bologna, Italy. He is suave, collected and clever, making him the perfect negotiator in ransom cases, within the ‘circles’, he is looked upon with respect for his many successes. When Alessia, one of the best female jockeys in the world, is kidnapped, as she drives home in her expensive sports car - he is the obvious weapon of choice, selected to get her back - alive. After he does so successfully, his services are sought once more when the three year old  son of a derby winner is abducted while he plays innocently on a South Coast Beach and the senior steward of the Jockey Club goes missing as he drives to a press reception in Baltimore.
On further investigation it is revealed that the kidnapper, though making all three incidents look independent, is actually the same person - a serial abductor, and while it may seem to the reader that Andrew is sometimes tailing a wild goose, yet he is on the right track, one which spans England, Italy and America! Andrew is pitted against Giuseppe, aka Peter, a cold blooded, elusive and wily European kidnapper, whose favorite prey are people associated with the racing circuit. Paradoxically, Giuseppe is actually from a wealthy family, and has fallen out with his father, and may have walked down the path of crime because he is in dire straits!




The book was written in 1983, a period fraught with kidnappings, which were the most favored modus operandi of criminals - they were ruthless, violent and lacking all human emotion - the abductors were able to put the fear of God not just in the victims and their families, but were also able to capture popular public imagination with vile apprehensions and forebodings of who could be next? Given this background, the story begins in Italy, a country no stranger to high profile kidnappings and unsuccessful police attempts to prevent them or to rescue victims. Even after the kidnapping of the little boy in England, the UK police seem adamant to do things their own way, endanger the child’s life. It is only the Americans who exercise caution and cooperation with Andrew, understanding the dangers of the odds stacked against them.
The technology and some of the settings may seem jaded in the twenty first century, yet the novel is gripping, taking an emotional look into survivors; for instance, Alessia is unable to commit to a relationship after the kidnapping, given that she is mistrustful of the intentions of men. There is the sign of blossoming of a relationship towards the end of the story, though with Andrew. Typically Francis, it is a good thing that comes in too late in the book!
An equine thrill to entertain you on a journey or weekend afternoon, with the interesting perspective that when all  else fails, and if the kidnappers don’t want you to call the police- rely on an external agency that can chalk out the best deal for you!

The Danger (Published in 1983) - About kidnapping, authored by Dick Francis

Friday, July 25, 2014

Even Money (Published in 2009) - Sudden appearance of a father - Authored by Dick Francis and Felix Francis

Ned Talbot has a clear perspective of who is, rather who he is perceived to be - a pariah. The sort of creature that makes for the underbelly of the racetrack - a bookie. The closet snobbery and class divide is obvious, stock broking is white collar, whereas punters socializing with bookies is strictly a ‘NO’. Ned and his assistant Luca are able to make decent profits and sizeable losses as they ply their trade at Royal Ascot and other small racecourses. A second generation bookie, he has seen the trade descend into depravity - from being an art form, almost where transactions were written in books, to the paper emitting computer – bookies are now less known for honor, better known for their sly, wily ways.
His mundane numbed existence is jolted out of its seasoned normality, when a man claiming to be his father, meets him at the parking lot at the Ascot. Ned is shocked, he grew up with his grandfather, who told him his parents had died in a car crash - so who is this man, really, claiming to be his father? Where had been all these years? Why had he chosen to show up now - seven years and two days after the old man’s death? His mind is a mess - he has never met his father for thirty seven years, has believed that the only family he has is now dead, yet here is this man, claiming to be his parent!
And so Edward ‘Ned’ Talbot is reunited with Peter James Talbot, his father. Peter tells him that he had panicked when Ned’s mother died in the crash, and in typical teenage fashion, had bolted in the opposite direction - to Australia. As Peter is filling the blanks in Ned’s life, telling him he has two half sisters, they walk down an alley. The sound of footsteps rings alarm bells, he’d had a bad day at the races - why would anyone follow him to steal from him?




The duo are mugged, and even though Ned throws an envelope with money towards the men - it simply lies untouched on the grass, so does his father - who has been stabbed in the stomach. Peter dies in the emergency room. Orphaned twice over, Ned is numb with shock, which deepens when the investigating officer tells him that contrary to the information the man has shared with them regarding his ‘father’ - the credentials the dead man has speak otherwise; his credit card and driver’s license have on them the name Alan  Charles Grady.
The police are mistrustful of Ned, shadowing him as he visits Sophie, his wife in hospital, who is being treated for bipolar disorder;  his mind is plagued with questions, as he wonders how and why his ‘father’ could’ve landed them all in such a mess? When he goes to the hotel where his father had rented a room, Ned finds thirty thousand pounds in cash, a device that resembles a remote control, counterfeit horse papers, and a polythene bag containing something that resembles grains of rice, but on closer look is frosted glass. Despite all the depressing events in his life, Ned is rewarded with a happy ending - where he is reunited with his sisters, and both he and Sophie look forward to parenthood!
Dick and Felix Francis have researched well, the Senior Francis is gifted with years of experience as a steeplechase jockey and Felix has almost effortlessly managed to melt into the style of writing adopted by his father - this seamless narration is the strength of Even Money. Excellent read!

Even Money (Published in 2009) - Sudden appearance of a father - Authored by Dick Francis and Felix Francis

Second Wind (Published in 1999) - Authored by Dick Francis, not about horses

What is most enthralling and refreshing about Dick Francis is the ease with which he introduces myriad backdrops for his story telling, all well founded on his equine love and past as a steeplechase jockey. Second Wind is the story about a meteorologist Perry Stuart, who, along with his friend Kris Ironside, work for the BBC. He lives with and loves his grandmother, who offers clear, sensible advice from time to time – ‘If you can’t fix it, think of something else.’
The two men fly in Kris’s Piper Cherokee, a single engine low winged aeroplane, almost as old as the friends - thirty. Their destination is the Jockey Club. This camaraderie extends to the workplace as well, and the two are sent on an assignment to Trox Island, where the men are to chase a category 5 hurricane - Odin! His grandmother confesses she has a premonition which doesn’t augur well for Perry, however, against good sense prevailing, the meteorologist sets about to leave for Florida.
Kris and Perry stay with friends in the Grand Cayman, another friend offers to lend them his plane - having flown with success, Kris is confident of making the trip to and fro - with no possibility of any danger. He however, doesn’t share the details of the route - Perry finds out why when Kris sheepishly confesses that he is also running an errand for the couple they’re staying with; Stuart would have to photograph mushrooms grown on Trox Island where their hosts own a farm.




When they arrive at the Island, they are surprised when they encounter no human beings, just a whole bovine herd greets them. The weather is also taking a turn for the worse, and so they decide to head back - they set off in the middle of the storm. On the way, one of the engines stalls and as luck would have it - their plane plunges into the waters below. Kris in a life boat, and Perry in a life jacket - adrift on the waters.
Stuart is washed up on the shore of an abandoned island where most of the habitation is destroyed by Odin. In a hut, he comes across a mysterious file and a Geiger Counter (used to measure radiation). He is later rescued by a team, all of which are dressed in radiation protective gear. He learns that much of the Island’s population was wiped off by a disease caused by unpasteurized milk. Back in England, Perry finds out that there is a sinister plot to ship uranium to undisclosed parties who crave the mineral for terrorist activities; involved are the couple he stayed with on the Grand Cayman.
Armed with knowledge that seeks to harm the vested interests of the evil rich, Stuart realizes his life is in danger, as another plane he’s on is sabotaged. His 40th novel received mixed reviews, with a majority criticizing Dick for giving a miss to his usual equine based narrative. Second Wind comes in gasping for breath just like the name suggests, you could read it for sheer fondness of Francis!

Second Wind (Published in 1999) - Authored by Dick Francis, not about horses