Saturday, February 1, 2014

Longshot - Authored by Dick Francis - Published in 1990

John Kendall ‘accepted a commission’ that four writers before him had declined. The travel agent-turned- adventure-guide writer is in dire straits, who is asked to vacate the attic apartment he lives in, and from these circumstances, you can make out that he is desperately in need of a source of income. The first book he wrote was accepted by a publishing house - he took the advance and chose to write a second one – Long Way Home. Not easy, as the creative juices run dry, and writer’s block looms like an ugly cloud over his head. The money is all gone, so when his agent Ronnie Curzon offers him the opportunity to ghost write the memoir of a former horse trainer Tremayne Vickers, he jumps at it, tempted by the prospect of having a roof over his head and food in his belly.

Although he has the limited experience of a survival guide writer (Return Safe From The Wilderness  - six hardcover guides to help the traveler through jungles, deserts, at sea, on ice, or on a safari) - he is determined to take up the project, even though Ronnie advises him otherwise, with a dire warning ‘Impulse will kill you one of these days’ - he looks forward to earning a better living.

On arrival at Shellerton, Berkshire, he is received by Mackie Vickers, Tremayne’s daughter-in-law. In the jeep, he meets the rest of the four connected to the estate - Bob Watson and his wife Ingrid, Fiona and Harry Goodhaven. The air in the vehicle is laden with silence, this changes when suddenly the jeep lands up in a ditch, after skidding. The four travelers were thrown into the freezing water, as Mackie sits at the wheel in a semi conscious state, dazed. The hero saves the hour by transporting all five people back safely to the Estate.

Kendall settles into his new life, cooking meals, hobnobbing with the kids, socializing with the guests-enjoying his stay and turn of fortune. He is introduced to Fiona’s cousin, a jockey with a strange, violent streak - Nolan, who has in the been in deep trouble for strangling a girl in the past year, takes a dislike to John, threatening and publicly attacking the writer. To make things murkier, local Inspector – Doone-  discovers the remains of a stable girl with a colorful past - Angela Brickell, who was strangled.

Soon, John Kendall is drawn into the web of intrigue and corrupt practices, there are attempts made to harm the family - and from the above example, him not being one to be found wanting when danger calls - Kendall wards off the evil eye by fighting to keep the Vickers from unforeseen harm. Why read Dick Francis? Is it for the horses, the stoic heroes who ride off into the sunset…alone or the villains who meet their just desserts? Maybe it is out of a sense of loyalty and admiration for the honest appeal of Francis’s own charm and quiet manner, or even for pretty phrases like still mornings "as rare as honest beggars"!

Knowing his connection with horses, it is somewhat difficult to envision a novel without the beloved equestrians. The narrative, though interesting, is long winded towards the end, and yes, the end is a little maudlin and sad.

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