SHARED READ: Saddle up for Dick Francis' horsy adventures! Book Two
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Because this is not a series, I've chosen a somewhat random order, concentrating on the books that I think will make for the liveliest discussions (i.e., my favorites). They are more or less in chronological order but not strictly. Our final two books for 2019 do feature the same cast of characters, and in that case we will read them in the order they were published.
I'll provide an introductory non-spoilery post for each book to jump-start the discussion, but the rest is up to you. Chime in with any comments, questions, or quotes that come to mind as you read. Please use spoiler tags for anything that might be a spoiler — you create those by typing <spoiler>secrets go here</spoiler>.
Here's our tentative schedule for 2019:
January-February — Nerve (introductory post)
March-April — Forfeit (introductory post)
May-June — Reflex (introductory post)
July-August — Rat Race (introductory post)
(the last two books we'll read in 2019 constitute one of Francis' mini-series, featuring amateur jockey Christmas "Kit" Fielding)
September-October — Break In (introductory post)
November-December — Bolt (introductory post)
As we get to each entry, I'll link the intro post here to make it easy to navigate through the thread as it grows.
For an introduction to Dick Francis, check out the previous thread.
Forfeit won the 1970 Edgar Allan Poe award (informally known as the Edgar) for best mystery novel, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. The win was the fourth consecutive year that a Dick Francis novel had made the Edgar shortlist, an indication that his second career as a writer was rounding into form. The previous runners-up were Odds Against in 1967, Flying Finish in 1968, Blood Sport in 1969, for those of you determined to go beyond this year's assigned readings. :-)
Forfeit focuses on James Tyrone, a racing reporter for a London tabloid. He knows that his fellow writer Bert Chekov is a drunk, but he has no reason to believe Bert is anything but an honest reporter. But when Bert suddenly dies in an "accidental" fall from a window, Tyrone suspects the clues to his death might be found in some suspicious columns he'd written touting can't-lose horses — who mysteriously failed to show up on a race day. But does a racing correspondent have what it takes to unmask a murderer?
I've always liked this one in part because my first career was as a sportswriter (though not a racing correspondent!). But the real heart of the book lies in the relationship between Ty and his wife. I won't say more than that because I don't want to spoil anything, but I'll be interested to see if any of you agree. And of course — whether you like the "twist" or the rest of the book or not, your comments are always welcome here!
I will probably read it starting late March early April. I'm hot and heavy into the Frieda Klein series by Nicci French and don't want to interrupt the flow, but will be back!
I know a lot about horses, less about racing, and only have the occasional track attendee’s knowledge of U.S. betting and so I found the beginning a little frustrating as I wasn’t quite sure what antepost betting was. All was explained within context but I wound up googling “ante post betting” anyway. So, from Wikipedia, for anyone else who may need it:
“In horse racing and greyhound racing, an ante-post bet is a bet placed before the horse/greyhound racing course's betting market has opened, and is made on the expectation that the price of the horse/greyhound is presently more favorable than it will be when the course's market opens. Generally, this includes any bet placed before the day of the race. Ante-post betting, unlike starting price betting, carries the additional risk that the original bet will be forfeited, rather than returned, if the wagered horse fails to run.”
Thanks Julia, that was a lot of fun!
I enjoyed the story. I know a little more about racing and betting, in my teens I helped regular at the stables of Duindigt (a Dutch racetrack near The Hague). Horse racing (with the jockey on the horse) is not so popular here, most racetracks are only for trotting (with the jockey on a cart behind the horse).
I went on reading an other Dick Francis book Decider, not listed for reading this year.
Thanks for starting the shared reads, as I would not have discovered Dick Francis on my own.
Decider is a good one! I'm glad our project introduced you to Dick Francis, and that you're enjoying discovering his work.
I love this bit on p19: "They're not exactly alcoholic," said Gail. "They just go eagerly from drink to drink.".
1. Is Ty a character you'd have liked to read about in another Dick Francis book?
2. Do you prefer series with recurring main characters, or stand-alone mysteries with new characters every book?
I liked Ty enormously and I am also disappointed that we never meet him again. As I mentioned to Joanne, his career as a racing journalist would seem to be the perfect setup for all kinds of plots. On the other hand, one of the things I love about the Francis books is the in-depth look we get at all sorts of professions that are directly or indirectly related to horse racing. I've learned so much about the business of wine (Proof) and gemstone (Straight) merchants, glassblowing (Shattered), fine-art painting (In the Frame, To the Hilt), flying taxis (Rat Race), photography (Reflex) transporting horses by air (Flying Finish) and road (Driving Force), meteorology (Second Wind), home construction (Decider), large-animal veterinary medicine (Comeback among others), working on cross-country passenger trains (The Edge) and so many more. The research that Francis (wife Mary, apparently) did for each book was meticulous. I don't know that I'd want to give that up for the comfort of having the same protagonist all the time.
But what do you all think?
Thank you so much for pointing that out.
The constant for Francis was the horse racing backdrop and I suppose he and his wife enjoyed the variety each new character gave to the racing game. I’d love more stories about Ty and his newspaper chums, but I’ll probably say the same when I read the next book. Always leave them wanting more!
>22 quondame: Yes, that’s very true. And especially here, when
>27 cbl_tn: That is an interesting parallel, Carrie.
I can't imagine a series with him and his wife at all, sorry. I like that most of Dick Francis's books are standalone.
I'm enjoying this shared read, Julia - not too demanding, just enough to whet my appetite for the next one.
>30 quondame: Oh, I'd forgotten about that one, Susan. You might be right; certainly his job would have offered a variety of challenges to explore. A limited arc like you suggest could have worked.
I couldn’t help when I read that to think of the forfeiting in Forfeit!
And that brings us to ...
Reflex was published in 1981, the 19th entry in Francis' bibliography. By now Francis' formula, such as it was, had taken shape. Intelligent, stoic main characters, a mysterious event involving horse racing, the doling out of copious amounts of physical pain, both on and off the racecourse, and in-depth explorations of various professions. In this one, photography takes its turn in the spotlight to excellent effect.
The intelligent but stoic hero here is Philip Nore, a jockey in the twilight of a successful steeplechase career who is casting about for a career Plan B, for the not-too-distant day when the falls and weight-cutting get to be too much. He considers photography just a hobby, but the positive response from people who've seen his work has him thinking about making it the next phase of his career. A career perhaps like that of veteran racing photographer George Millace, whose skill Nore admires even as he deplores the older man's mean-spirited habit of catching jockeys at the most embarrasing moments. When Millace dies unexpectedly, Nore finds himself in possession of some of his photographic "failures". If he doesn't solve the puzzles contained in them, he may never get the chance at life after racing.
It's important to remember that 1981 publication date, long before digital photography was a pixel in Steve Jobs' eye. In my first job at a small daily newspaper (right around the time period of this book, in fact), I learned lots of aspects involved in print journalism besides writing, including shooting all sorts of sports (no horseracing, though!), and developing and printing my own photos. That familiarity with the basics of the process undoubtedly contributes to my fond feelings about this book, as I love the various photographic puzzles that Philip Nore has to solve in order to solve the mystery. But I don't think you need that background information to enjoy this one, so dig in! And don't forget to come back here and let us know what you think, or ask questions along the way.
And wow, Carrie, you've already finished it! I need to dig my copy out and get started on my re-read so I can keep up with you. :-)
I've cleared the decks on the fiction front and have my 'First Ballantine Books Edition: April 1982' mass market paperback of Reflex in hand.
I'm definitely in that latter category, as I went years and years without re-reading any Dick Francis and then since last year have been semi-obsessed with revisiting all my favorites. But it's so much more fun to do it with a group!
Meanwhile, I've almost finished Reflex, and it was just what I needed. Funny to me how reading about obsolete technology is less than riveting. I read it when it first came out and was enthralled with all the photography/developing passages. Now I'm only vaguely interested. It seems less than realistic to me that
>38 rosalita: One of my best friends still suffers some disabilities from a light case of polio in 1949 or '50. I had a cousin with an even lighter case a few years later. As I remember, we didn't get the vaccine until 1963 or so. I distinctly remember the sugar cube after I started college. (I guess I could google it!)
I've thoroughly enjoyed this one, Julia, and am happy to have stumbled on this group read!
>55 LizzieD: I'm so glad you're here, Peggy, and that you are enjoying the group read. Thanks for the info about polio. Now that you mention the sugar cube, I vaguely maybe remember something like that from my childhood (I was born in 1964) though I'm sure I didn't make the connection that it was a polio vaccination. The only vaccination that made an impression (pun intended) was smallpox, for which I still bear the characteristic round scar on my upper left arm. And I still remember having to get the TB tine test every time I got a school physical!
Meanwhile, if I didn't say, I'm reading Under Orders, a late Sid Halley offering. It's OK, but I think the early, fresh ones are better.
Rat Race is waiting on the shelf. I've had it a long time and have probably read it in the past but my LT library only shows that I have it. One way or the other, I look forward to it.
I liked the ending, too. I felt satisfied with where it seemed the characters were heading, in a way that didn't make me want to read any sort of sequel. More like, "OK, that's them sorted, then. Next!"
I have not read Rat Race for ages, either. We will re-discover it together!
Rat Race was published in 1970, and it shows in the cultural descriptions, in particular a hippie character named Chanter, who sprinkles around a generous helping of "man"s and disdain for authority as he's casually groping the female love interest and railing against the establishment. Thankfully, he's limited to two brief appearances, so don't let him turn you off from this groovy story, man.
Matt Shore is a pilot. Once among the best in his profession, flying for B.O.A.C., one of the forerunners of the current British Airways, Shore's career has been on a bit of a downward spiral and he's now been reduced to working for a ramshackle flying taxi service that is barely keeping its wings above water. He's depressed and keeps himself shut off from the world, until he is blasted — literally — out of his apathy when a bomb explodes on the plane he had been piloting just minutes earlier. It is seemingly only through the merest chance that Matt and his passengers — the top steeplechase jockey in Britain, a respected former Army Major, and an iron-glove woman trainer — escape serious injury. But accidents keep happening, and Matt realizes he needs to figure out where the danger is coming from before his career and his life both go up in smoke.
I remember when I first read this one ages ago, I was fascinated by the glimpse into the world of private aircraft. In both of my editions (and hopefully all) there is an introduction from Francis explaining how the story came to be. Once again, wife Mary figures prominently, as she apparently got so absorbed in researching the details of flying taxis that she took flying lessons and became a pilot herself. The Francises even had their own flying taxi service for a while before they sold out to a competitor. I think all of that experience lends a nice air of authenticity to the details of Matt's job, though of course the technology of flying airplanes has changed a great deal in the past 30-odd years.
I hope you all enjoy this one!
I hope you enjoy it, Joanne!
I am happily about to start the third Ruth Galloway, Julia. It's great to find a new series that is this pleasing and to know that I have plenty to look forward to. I just hope that I can slow down and eventually read other things along with the current RG.
Oh, you are so lucky to have a long list of Ruth Galloway books to discover! It is one of my favorite series, so I'm always tickled when someone else likes them, too.
>60 clue: >71 rosalita: I could do with a lot less of him!
Because it was less focused on horses, I struggled a bit at the beginning. I’m not sure Matt was as fleshed out as some other main characters in Francis’s books but he sure grew on me!
Thanks again, Julia, for the gentle push to enjoy these books and picking such good ones!
Thanks, again, Julia, for another winner!
>79 karenmarie: So pleased you liked it on re-read, Karen!
>80 Copperskye: That would be a Christmas party I might actually enjoy!
Sigh. I just had to go look at the Dick Francis books I have and see that there are 5 I don't have...
How wonderful that you have the enjoyment of searching for five more Dick Francis books ahead of you! (See how I tried to spin that positively? Ha!)
So Rat Race was not my favourite, a decent read that kept me reading for a few hours at the start of this month.
The next two planned books look better in that part, reading the description :-)
Kit Fielding is one of my very favorite Francis creations. I think Break In was one of the first Francis books I found, so that probably accounts for part of it, but he's also a really appealing character. I'll be eager to see how other people feel.
They're way better on re-read than I expected. It's hard to keep my snoot out of them. I hope others enjoy Kit as much as you and I have.
Break In, published in 1985, was one of the first Dick Francis books I ever read, and it's still one of my favorites. It is one of the rare books that features a protagonist whom we will meet again, in our November-December read, Bolt. Christmas "Kit" Fielding is a steeplechase jockey. He is very close to his twin sister, Holly, even though she married into the Allardeck family, whose patriarch has carried on a feud with père Fielding for years. The ersatz Romeo and Juliet relationship did not bring the two families together, but now Holly's husband, racehorse trainer Bobby Allardeck, is in trouble and Kit may be the only one who can help him. Can Kit overcome his distaste for his sister's in-laws long enough to make the effort? And can Bobby swallow his instinctive hate for all things Fielding (besides Holly) long enough to let him try?
I loved Kit from the first time I met him way back in the 1980s (I have this one in hardback, so I must have bought it shortly after it was released), and the supporting characters are also fine, from Holly and her husband's hateful family to Kit's favorite racehorse owner, the Princess. And — heads up, Anita! — we return to some solid horserace action in this one, riding along with Kit in his jump races. I hope you all enjoy this one as much as I do.
>98 rosalita: But were reading Bolt next, no? (Although I don’t own Bonecrack and so not sure that I’ve read that one...!)
I intend to read all of them. Eventually. That's re-read, actually - the only Dick Francis I think I haven't read is his autobiography. I've never found a copy. Someday.
>106 jjmcgaffey: It's never too late to chat about any of the books, Jennifer, so I'm glad you came back. I kind of agree with your spoiler, although we weren't given any specific info why that would be.
Bolt, the second in a pair of novels featuring steeplechase jockey Christmas "Kit" Fielding, was published in 1987, two years after Break In. Back with Kit are his twin sister, Holly, his favorite employer, Princess Casilia, and his family's arch-nemesis, Maynard Allardeck. As Bolt opens, we learn that Kit's budding romance with the Princess's niece, Danielle, has hit rocky shoals. Meanwhile, the Princess herself needs Kit's help extricating her elderly but honorable husband from a business deal gone bad, which leads him once again into the sort of physical danger most jockeys never face off the racecourse.
I enjoyed revisiting Kit & Co. again. He's such an appealing protagonist, one of Francis' best in my opinion. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.
P.S. Thanks for leading us on such an enjoyable ride (*groan*) this year, Julia!
>115 Copperskye: Howdy, Joanne. I'm glad you're still with us.
>116 clue: Good to hear! I'll be interested to hear what you think.
Here's an article about Felix Francis taking over the book writing this group may find interesting:
The three you mentioned are also some of my favorites, as it happens. Great minds think alike!
I would be happy to saddle up for another round of Dick Francis reads in 2020, but I'm not sure if there's enough interest. Perhaps we could take a show of hands:
Votar: I'm interested in another Dick Francis shared read in 2020?
>131 FAMeulstee: I haven't yet re-read Bolt, and I had forgotten that she doesn't play much of a part in this one. (Time to pull that off the shelf!) I really enjoyed the interaction between Kit and Holly in Break In.
True, three of these are fictional characters and Dick Francis is not, but I think the list still works.
I voted yes for another Dick Francis read. 6 books is good - keeps us going but isn't onerous. Can I put in a vote for Banker, a sentimental favorite since it's my first Dick Francis?
I'm glad you're on board for a second year! Banker is one of my very favorites, too, even though
It was an enjoyable read but wow,
This was a reread for me and as I was reading, I came across my receipt tucked in the book. I purchased it at a B. Dalton (RIP) on 7/14/90 for $2.98 in the remainder bin.
>146 rhinemaiden: >147 Dejah_Thoris: Ah, I was thinking there wasn't much interest after the discussion here fell off toward the end of the year, but Karen has also been encouraging me. So I'll see what I can put together this weekend. I do have some ideas for a "theme" for the year's reading ...
Around the World With Horses: A Dick Francis SHARED READ