Friday, January 24, 2014

10 Lb. Penalty - Authored by Dick Francis - Published in 1997

"I yearned for the simple life of carefree, reckless speed; the gift given by horses, the gift of skis; and I was beginning to learn, as, everyone has to in the end, that all of life's pleasures have strings attached."

An eighteen year old aspires to be a steeplechase jockey, Benedict Juliard is filled with hope for his bright future, when his dreams are cruelly shattered – he is fired for sniffing glue, at the onset, this seems likely, him being rich and wealthy. The book is a first person account; events are narrated by Benedict Juliard.
On further inquiry it is revealed to him that his father George had a hand to play in the dashing of his ambition.

George Juliard is a businessman, selected as a candidate in the Hoopwestern by-election in Dorset, in place of a sitting MP, now deceased; hoping to leave his mark in the world of politics-his ambition is to stand for Parliament. Being a widower, he wants Ben to step into the role of the son who is ‘terribly nice to people’.

Ben would be a big help in the pre-election campaign for the public office George hopes to gets elected to; he makes his son Benedict enter a pact wherein neither of the two would do anything careless or negligent so as to endanger the former’s political aspirations. Though he may seem cruel and ambitious, George is a man of principles, passing on the opportunity of mudslinging his opponents, and fighting the good fight. He is elected as cabinet minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. His popularity is on an upward spiral and he is liked by the members of his constituency. George now has his eyes set on the prime ministerial seat after a cabinet crisis.

Some years later, rumors of George’s involvement in a crime make the circuit. Ben, now a racing insurance investigator and steeple-chaser of some repute, returns to investigate the source of these rumors, risking his own life in the process. The horses are a backdrop for the father-son relationship - the son’s efforts to keep his father safe from slime infested politicking, arson and evil plotting villains. Young Benedict is the son-sleuth most politician fathers would vie to have! The dead legislator’s wife makes a formidable enemy, coupled with a fierce shooting and car sabotage - it’s a wonder George is still alive!

Even the paparazzo - Basil Rudd, seems conniving and evil, as he keeps appearing in most of the scenes when a mishap is about to fall upon George. Evil sounding names pop up at intervals - Alderney Wyvern, a slippery political operator and three middle-aged campaign volunteers called Faith, Marge and Lavender.
Dick Francis’s 36th novel was inspired after a meeting with the British Prime Minister John Majors at Lords; it is perhaps the most memorable for the characters he created.  A 10 lb. penalty is the maximum weight that can be carried by a horse, it is considered a sure shot way to kill an animal with such heavy load! Perhaps in the book, the image of the horse bearing this great burden is juxtaposed with the young teenager Benedict, weighed down by the responsibility of his father’s purpose driven life.

The book is more about relationships and what we ought to invest in keeping them alive, there is, however, little element of mystery, which may disappoint some of Francis’s fans.

10 Lb. Penalty - Authored by Dick Francis - Published in 1997

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