Saturday, July 24, 2010

Manly men

Lars Walker discovers one of my favorite writers of mystery/suspense. He just read Triple Crown, an omnibus volume containing three Dick Francis novels: Dead Cert, Nerve, and For Kicks. In the early '80s I read one of his books and then every other available in the high school library where I was teaching. I spent summer vacation reading all the others I could get my hands on. The early ones are the best. Walker identifies what I think is their primary appeal:
I have a hard time pinning down what's so compelling in a Dick Francis mystery. Most of the stories revolve around the sport of racing (with the corruption that racetrack betting invites), and that's a field of endeavor in which I've never had much interest (though I'll admit that if I have to watch a horse race, I'd prefer a steeplechase, which is the kind of racing Francis concentrates on, at least in the novels I've read). I can't say that he's a brilliant stylist—in fact I'd characterize him as the kind of author who disappears totally, which isn't a bad way to get your reader invested in your characters. I can't say he's especially skilled at crafting vivid characters. And yet I found myself horizontal on the couch for hours, turning page after page, absolutely under the spell of the stories.

Dead Cert, I understand, was Francis' first published novel. It's good, but I think he was still feeling his way. Nerve was his second book, and by then he'd already found his pace. This was possibly the most satisfying tale of revenge I've ever read. And For Kicks amazed me. It was the compelling adventure of a man who takes a dangerous job for money, endures great suffering and violence, and in the end learns something about himself that changes his life.

I think what I particularly like is that Francis writes about manly men. Men blessed, and burdened, with strength, integrity, and courage, Churchillian in their resolve never to give up. [the review]
Triple Crown, by Dick Francis