Sunday, February 2, 2014

Straight - Authored by Dick Francis - Published in 1989

When he is almost rendered jobless after an accident that leaves his ankle broken, steeplechase jockey Derek Franklin’s sagging spirits are further pushed to the bounds of being broken when he receives sad news. Greville Saxony Franklin is hooked. To life support. And soon he bids farewell to the world. Derek inherits his brother’s life - wealth, horses, business, mistress, and his enemies - a deadly inheritance. The two brothers have rarely ever met, a consequence of their parents having separated, there is a bond between them.

Greville was a lawyer, who imported precious stones, and was a frequent face at the racecourse. He loved his money making enterprise, and generously bequeaths it all to his baby brother - nineteen years his junior. The very first attack was unexpected, and left Derek flabbergasted - after gathering the belongings of his dead brother, he is crudely mugged, the bag with Greville’s belongings, snatched from him.

"The bad scorn the good, and the crooked despise the straight”- reads a note Greville wrote shortly before he passed away. Derek soon discovers that his older brother’s fondness for the greens was insatiable. On plunging head on into sorting and sifting through Saxony’s business and financial affairs, he is informed that a large cache of diamonds has gone missing. If Derek is unable to trace the stones, his brother’s carefully built - up business will go kaput.

In the midst of it all, he is confronted with the harshness of the British Law which forbids jockeys from owning horses - so he would therefore have to sell his brother’s equestrian wealth. Derek also uncovers Greville’s romantic liaisons with a married woman, his mistress. Struggling to strike a balance, his life is overtaken by the decisions his brother took when alive.

Uncovering layers of greed, evil and ambition, triggering a vicious cycle of events leading to murder and mayhem - Dick Francis delves deep into the cesspool of human emotions. The writer has his pulse on the underbelly of horse racing - the drugging of innocent animals to sate the avarice of men, commerce infiltrates the sporting arena, threatening to rip apart the moral fabric of the men and women involved.

Francis’s clear and clean approach to the protagonists in his stories stems from his own inability to do anything that compromises his morals in real life. Thirty four year old Derek Franklin is one such character and he shares the same squeaky clean conscience with his creator. The theme is typical of most of Francis’s novels - the transition of society towards materialistic pursuits for remaining happy; drug dealing, racing, gambling, against a commercial backdrop, pitted against the selfless honesty and integrity of the hero Derek Franklin. He takes on his brother’s woes and enemies with the refinement of a monk, accepting of his fate without outward fuss.

To his advantage, there exist, thankfully, others in the story who are similar, if not equally clean in character as Derek. Straight is a first person account, lending propinquity to the story, keeping readers close to the plot. An interesting story, different in the sense that it uses commerce as a backdrop. Interesting read.

Straight - Authored by Dick Francis - Published in 1989

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