SHARED READ: Saddle up for Dick Francis' horsy adventures!
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Welcome to our shared read of the mystery novels written by Dick Francis! We plan to read a new novel every other month, and meet here to chew it all over. This is an open invitation to one and all: If you're at all interested in reading Dick Francis, or if you've read him in the past and would like to talk about them here, I hope you'll join us for any or all of the discussions.
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
July-August — Rat Race
(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
November-December — Bolt
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.
Next up: An introduction to Dick Francis.
Dick Francis Bio
Long before Richard Stanley Francis (1920-2010) became a bestselling author of mystery/thriller novels set in and around the world of horse-racing, he was a champion steeplechase jockey. The Welshman rode some of the best horses in England, including those owned by the Queen Mother. In fact, it was while riding one of the Queen Mum's horses in the 1956 Grand National (possibly the most prestigious steeplechase event in the world) that he had his most devastating loss. Francis, aboard Devon Loch, was in the lead heading toward the finish line when the horse inexplicably collapsed, possibly because it saw a shadow and thought there was a fence to jump that wasn't actually there. The horse was uninjured and lived for years afterward, but the incident led to one of the most bizarre racing photographs I've ever seen:
Less than a year later, at the age of 35, Dick Francis retired. In short order he published an autobiography, The Sport of Queens. Pleased by the reception, he went on to write 38 full-length novels and a book of short stories. Most became bestsellers. In all his books were published in 35 languages and sold at least 60 million copies. With the exception of two sets of books (three featuring jockey-turned-detective Sid Halley and two featuring amateur jockey Kit Fielding) each book has an entirely new set of characters, but they do share some characteristics. All are written in the first person from the perspective of a young man who inevitably finds himself confronted with a mystery, often one that poses physical danger to himself. Indeed, the narrator often suffers, either physically or emotionally, confronting his difficulties with the stereotypical "stiff upper lip" usually ascribed to British men of a certain age.
As mentioned earlier, all the books have some connection to the world of horse racing, but not always in England. Francis sent his protagonists to America, South Africa, Australia, Norway, Russia, and the Caribbean. And the equine connection is not always straightforward, particularly in later books when Francis may have been running out of plot ideas that centered on jockeys and trainers. For me, some of these books are among the very best, as Francis, with the research help of his wife Mary, presents fascinating "behind the scenes" looks at various professions, all in the course of a plot that always, in some way, involves race horses. Thus, over the course of this shared read we will immerse ourselves in the worlds of winesellers, moviemakers, glassblowers, meteorologists, survivalists, air taxi pilots, physics teachers, photographers, and painters, among others.
And that leads me to my final note: I mentioned above that Francis' wife, Mary (pictured below on a Fort Lauderdale beach with Dick), helped him with the research needed to write "insider" views of all sorts of topics. In reality, she did much more than that. Francis' longtime friend and newspaper editor Graham Lord wrote a biography, A Racing Life that claims that Mary Francis actually ghost-wrote all of the books published under her husband's name. (You can get a good summation in this article from The Independent.) Over the years Dick Francis had been open about the research help she had given him, and often said he wanted her to receive credit on the books themselves but she refused. And it's still unclear exactly how their writing partnership worked, exactly. It's suggestive that after Mary died in 2000 Dick never wrote another book until he started collaborating with his son, Felix, in 2006 (unlike his mother, Felix had no reservations about getting credited on the book jackets and has gone on to write more books as a solo author, though they are published with the tagline "A Dick Francis novel" which seems ... weird).
Did Dick come up with the ideas and an outline or first draft that Mary then polished up into a finished book? Did they go back and forth throughout the writing? No one really knows, apparently. And honestly, it doesn't much matter to me. The point is that whoever did what to produce the books, they did a fantastic job and I'm happy to say I enjoy them just as much now as I did when I first discovered them in the 1980s.
January-February Read: Nerve
Nerve was published in 1964, just the second novel by Dick Francis. At this stage in his career, Francis was still drawing heavily on his previous career as a champion steeplechase jockey, so it's unsurprising that his main character here, Rob Finn, is himself a young jockey. That choice of profession makes him the odd man out in his family of accomplshed musicians, and as if that wasn't uncomfortable enough, a once-promising start to his racing career seems to be falling apart. Has Rob committed the cardinal sin of a jump jockey — losing his nerve for crashing over giant fences and hurdles at 30 miles per hour? Or is there something more sinister at work?
>2 rosalita: The characters, narrative flow, and writing, whoever is responsible, for Dick Francis's novels have impressed me from the first, but what has made them multiple re-reads is the depiction of people in interesting but not usually posh professions who have very positive attitudes about their work. They may not quite be ordinary working stiffs, but they are usually a far cry from super-rich aristocrats, spies, and drunk policemen who fill so many, many of the books that aren't filled with angst of any class.
I once owned every novel Dick Francis wrote. I think I discovered him in the 70's, and couldn't get enough. I got rid of all the paperbacks a few years ago, in one of my purges. But I did keep the Sid Halley novels (which I notice are not on your schedule), and some of his later short fiction. You tempt me to re-read Nerve, at least, and see how it strikes me after all this time.
>4 quondame: Yes, that's exactly how I feel, Sue. I think that's why the latter novels are some of my favorites of all.
>5 laytonwoman3rd: Hi, Linda! I still have all my paper copies, a mix of paperback picked up at used bookstores and hardcovers bought from the remainders table at Borders. You used to be able to get some amazing deals there. Because there are three Sid Halley novels and we are only reading six books a year, I didn't want to take up half of the first year with one set of books that are not necessarily representative of Francis' work as a whole (in my opinion, and casting no aspersions on the quality as I quite like especially the first one). Should people remain enthusiastic at the end of 2019 those would definitely be on the list for 2020!
I hope you'll consider joining us for Nerve. I'd love to have your insights as someone who can help put it into perspective as tha beginning of what the whole oeuvre turned out to be.
I love Dick Francis - I think I've read all his mysteries, and there's exactly one I actually dislike (Slay Ride - it reads more like a Bond novel than a Francis, to me). Your list doesn't have any of my favorites on it (Hot Money, To The Hilt, Shattered, Decider...), but they're all good; I will try to join the read, though I'm bad about doing things at expected times.
I've read only a few of Felix's books, but they seem pretty well up to Dick (or Dick and Mary)'s standard, unlike most of the series-continued-by-children I've run into. Dick's books are worth reading and rereading - I keep finding new things going on in old favorites, so I'm not desperate for a Francis fix.
I love Dick Francis. I have to find copies for the titles mentioned in 1.
Ok, I have all copies. Looking forward to the reading. :-)
>7 jjmcgaffey: Hi, Jennifer! I thought this was a good set to introduce people to Dick Francis, but you also named some of my favorites — especially Shattered and Decider. But honestly, there aren't many I wouldn't consider favorites! I hope you'll come by through the year and add your thought — perhaps the every-other-month timeline will make it easier. But just pop in whenever — this is a no-pressure group read!
>8 Ameise1: You found all the books, Barbara! That's fantastic news. I'm glad to have you along.
Okay. I'm in. My oldest sister loves Dick Francis and has all of his books in hardback, and yet, incredibly, I have never read one. She gave me my very first mystery, and I can still remember opening it on Christmas and beginning a life long love of the genre - it was Mrs. McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie. Anyway, I digress...
Thanks for setting this up, Julia. I look forward to joining you.
>10 Crazymamie: Hooray! I'm tickled pink that you will be reading with us. So exciting and slightly amazing that you will be reading them for the first time, knowing how much you like a good mystery. I hope you like them more than Spenser. :-)
I haven't read Dick Francis but I love mysteries so I will give it a try. Whether or not I enjoy the books, I know I will enjoy the company here!
>9 rosalita: I'm looking forward to these books.
Glad to see Mamie and Carrie as well joining this shared reading.
This sounds great! I used to re-read all the previous books when each new one came out. I still have all of them on my Keeper shelves. I'll have to pull Nerve out for a read when the discussion starts. Reflex is still one of my favorites. Bolt isn't . So I'll be eager to see where that discussion goes.
>17 kmartin802: Welcome aboard, Kathy! Reflex is great, although of course the photography technology seems rather quaint in these days of digital film and cameras in phones. I hope we can get to that one in the second year. And I am looking forward to a lively discussion with you on Bolt!
I love Dick Francis! Haven't read him in years. I will probably jump into this one. : )
Hi Julia! Thank you for setting up this shared read. I've downloaded Nerve from the elibrary and I'm ready to go :-)
>19 Berly: Welcome, Kim! You will fit right in, as always. I'm glad you will be joining us.
>20 susanj67: Excellent work, Susan! Nerve is one that I have not yet acquired as an ebook, and my libraries have a ton of Dick Francis but not that one in the ecollection, so I'm going old-school with my paperback copy. I hope I remember how to turn paper pages ....
I'm in. I'm pretty sure I read all of the original Dick Francis mysteries years back - my mom's a big fan. I occasionally reread one, so this will work out well for me!
>2 rosalita: OMG! That’s a horrifying fall but I was happy to see the horse was ok!
Thanks for setting this up, Julia. I’m going to try really hard to join in with each read (have I mentioned how absolutely awful I am with group reads?)! It looks as if Nerve isn’t available as an ebook but I did find a physical copy at one of the libraries I have access to. I can pick it up next week. It’s a large print edition but it should work!
I don’t remember if I’ve read it already or not but that certainly doesn’t matter. It’ll be new to me either way!
>25 Copperskye: Joanne, I bought Nerve as an ebook on amazon(de) in English.
I haven't been able to find a copy of the first book, the libraries in my province don't have it. So I will probably join for the next book as the library does have that one.
>28 FAMeulstee: Oh, that's too bad, Anita. But I'm glad you'll be with us for the second one, at least. It's always tricky with these books that have been published so long ago. Not that the 1960s seems that long ago to me, since I was alive then, but you know what I mean. :-)
>29 rosalita: Yes, I know what you mean. Sometimes I think I am searching for a fairly recent book and it turns out to be published in the previous century. For a part I am still living in that century ;-)
I've just requested Nerve from the library. Woot for a bit of fun. I haven't read this one, although I have read many of the others.
>32 Berly: They probably used to have it and de-acquisitioned it when it stopped circulating a lot. Often happens with older genre fiction, and it's tough on people who want to read or re-read things that aren't "hot" any more.
I'll see what availability is like. I don't want to spend a lot of money on these, but maybe the used bookstore will have them if the library lacks copies.
I'm excited to join in on the group read this year! I have another perspective to offer: as an assistant racehorse trainer, I come not for the mystery, but for the horses.
I wonder if anyone here has input on something I think about: the decline of horse racing. Why don't people 'do' horse racing anymore? Is it the difficulty of learning how to handicap vs the ease of gambling at casinos? Or is it a big PR issue? There are many ideas as to what is causing lack of patrons, as many as there are people involved in racing, but I think a bad rap has invaded the American consciousness. Even I, who know better, sometimes get the image of racing as dirty, full of old men and disreputable characters, from media and pop culture. There aren't many adult books on horses that *don't* involve murder or desperate folks who will abuse/drug horses, etc. I work with some of the nicest, humble, well educated, caring people ever and it makes me very sad that the rest of the world can't see that. If the only experience of horse racing that people ever have is from reading a book or two of his, does it leave them with a good picture of racing? What does everyone else think about Francis's impact on the decline of the sport he loved?
I am going to re-read along with the group, so I need to go find these books again.
Alsvidur, I work quite a bit in horse rescue, and it seems there's several small things which add up to a decline. One is the perception of racing as being not quite on the up and up, but there's also an awareness now that a lot of TB and Quarter Horses are dumped or sent to slaughter because they aren't fast enough and the owners don't want to spend the time or money finding good homes. Even Kentucky Derby winners are not safe from being sent to slaughter, and thousands of TBs are shipped to Japan every year.
I think part of the appeal of horse racing came from the local people who would run their horses at county fairs and small meets 'for fun'. Since most people don't have horses any more, there's no pride in having a horse which was the winner at those county fairs or small meets.
I do have to say that the Francis books do tend to emphasize the seedier side of horse racing.
>37 alsvidur: Welcome aboard, Emilie! I will be really interested to get your perspective from the inside of the horse racing world. I don't have a good answer to your question about why racing has declined. I suspect it's not any one cause. The two that first came to mind for me was the decline in people who have actually come face-to-face (so to speak) with horses in real life in our continually urbanizing country. I don't the beauty and majesty of horses really translates on a television screen. And along with that, the decline in television coverage of races must play some part. Nowadays you only see the three Triple Crown races on TV, I think, where in the past it seems like you would see more broadcasts through the year.
I grew up as one of those stereotypical horse-mad girls, but the only racetrack anywhere near where I lived in the Midwest was harness-racing, which didn't seem as exciting (I'm probably wrong about that but that was my perception). And having read all the Dick Francis books, what I really wanted to go see was steeplechase, but that doesn't seem to be nearly as popular in the US as it is in the UK (again, I might be wrong about that; please correct anything I'm not getting right).
>38 MsMixte: I'm happy to have you with us, Margaret! I hope you can find the books — some of the older ones from the 1960s can be a little tricky as libraries seem to be weeding out more rapidly these days, but perhaps a used bookstore might be an option.
For those having difficulty, especially in the library, finding early Francis novels, don't overlook the omnibus editions; sometimes they keep those longer. I thought at first that my library system did not have any copies of Nerve, but they did have it in a volume with two others titles. The title of the one I reserved is Three to Show.
I looked for the books I didn't already have (four of the six we're reading) as ebooks, and found that a lot of them are available in the Los Angeles library...with holds on all of them! I wonder if there are LTers in that area doing this read. Hopefully they'll show up at the right time(s) for me. I have all but Rat Race as physical books, anyway, I just read more ebooks than paper books these days.
I'm in. I just dug out my copy of Nerve and have it downstairs in my home office, aka the Sunroom.
My MiL introduced me to Dick Frances 27 years ago and I've got quite a few of them on my shelves. Fortunately, I've got all 6 on the schedule.
Hi, Julia. Adding my thanks for your organizing this. I really enjoyed reading his mysteries over the years, and have wanted a good excuse to re-read them (as if an excuse is ever needed). Anyway, thanks for the inspiration. I'm going to see whether we have Nerve among the ones of his on our shelves.
>2 rosalita: What a write-up! Thank you for doing that, and so eloquently. I didn't realize he (Dick Francis) was that successful as a steeplechase jockey. What a bizarre turnup shown in that photo.
>45 jnwelch: Welcome, Joe! I'm delighted that you will be joining us and look forward to hearing more about your response to them (both when you first read them and now on re-reading). I had not read a Dick Francis book for years after devouring them all multiple times when I was younger, and I was so glad that they seemed not at all diminished when I picked them up again last year. But we'll see how everyone feels about that as we go!
Isn't that a wacky photo? I've never seen a horse with its back legs splayed out like that. My dog Odie used to love to lie like that, but he was far from horse-sized! On a racetrack it just looks so odd. I'm glad the horse wasn't injured.
I found a copy of Nerve for 90 cents at the used bookstore so I'll see how I like it and decide then on whether I'll continue. For some reason I've always had the impression I would not like this series, but so many of you are chiming in with your love that I'll at least read the first one.
I picked up the one library copy of Nerve within about a 50 mile radius. It’s a large print, but a paperback, so not unwieldy and I’m glad to have found it! I have one or two other short books that I want to finish first but I hope to start it in the next couple of weeks. Looking forward to reading this author again. I may or may not have read Nerve already but it’s been so long, it doesn’t matter. I loved the books when I was in my teens and 20s not for the mysteries but for the horses and racing backgrounds.
>37 alsvidur: The prevalence of other means of gambling is a big part of it, I think.
>38 MsMixte: Yes, all of that. I can hardly read about what happens to some of the horses when their racing careers are over. On a brighter note, I’ve ridden some very sweet and talented horses who had washed up on the track but found new, safe, and caring homes.
Well, so much for finishing some other books first - I started Nerve tonight.....
>51 Dejah_Thoris: LOL! I put something else aside to read Nerve too!
I started it yesterday and fell in. A lot of fun and fast paced - I'll just sit here and wait for the discussion to begin.
I started it on the 3rd and just finished it - I'll just sit here like Mamie and wait for the discussion to begin.
I'm still waiting on a library hold. The only library copy is currently checked out.
I finished Nerve this afternoon....why is everyone "waiting for the discussion to begin"? Someone has to begin it, no?
I love horses--from a distance. I'm not a rider. And I'm not a fan of racing; it's a brutal life for jockeys and their mounts, even when they live to do it. So although I remember loving Dick Francis's novels, I had kind of forgottenwhy. It's just this: his "heroes" fall into that category of male characters I can't get enough of, like those created by Robert B. Parker, and Walter Mosley---smart, attractive and fundamentally good, but not hesitant to use a trick or two from the bad guys' play book against them; reluctant to impose violence on others until absolutely necessary, and always ready to stop when enough is enough; vulnerable to injury, but relatively undaunted by the pain; decent to everyone, even, up to a point, to people who do not deserve it; and absolutely NOT subject to losing their nerve. That sums up Rob Finn, the relatively inexperienced jockey we meet in Nerve. He's starting to make a name for himself as fearless, so trainers and owners like to put him up on their difficult horses...the ones no one else wants to ride. He has managed a few good showings, when he gets the opportunity to pick up steady work replacing another jockey who has taken a bad fall. But (here's where the "smart" comes in) something feels very wrong to Rob...too many jockeys are losing their regular gigs because of rumors about their bad habits or lack of dedication to the sport. When he finds himself unable to bring home a winner in race after race, despite being up on some very reliable mounts, his reputation takes a hit, his suspicions rear up, and we're all taken for a grand ride. Great story-telling here.
I guess I was waiting because it is very early in the month and a lot of people participating are still waiting to get their copies - I always feel left behind when the discussion is off and running, and I don't even have a copy yet.
That being said, I like everything you had to say. And I so appreciate your comments on the heroes of the authors you mention - so true! I liked the slow build up and the attention to detail. It was more action packed than I was expecting it to be, and I loved that. I thought the pacing was perfect - it pulled me right in and then I kept wanting to see where it was going, so I ended up reading it all in one sitting. I would love to know what everyone thought about the ending -
>59 Crazymamie: I think the ending
I get that, and it makes perfect sense
>57 laytonwoman3rd: Excellent comments!
>59 Crazymamie: This will pretty much be all spoiler, so skip it until you're ready!
As for the first cousin issue, I have no problem. For what I understand, there is very little additional risk to children from such a marriage, so it's mostly a social taboo. Of course, in 1964 there wasn't as clear an understanding of genetics, so clearly that doesn't come into play as an explanation. I recall reading somewhere that the first cousin taboo was particularly strong in the U.S. - or parts of it, anyway. Perhaps there isn't wasn't as strong a feeling in GB?
>61 Crazymamie: Just saw your second post, Mamie Good points.
Love your comments, Dejah. That's why I was curious what others thought of the ending.
As far as
>64 laytonwoman3rd: Me, too!
Goodness gracious, we're one week into a two-month book discussion and we've leapt directly to the very end of the book! That's precipitous, although I appreciate the use of spoiler tags. I'm going to hold off on adding my thoughts until we have more people involved in the discussion.
I certainly hope everyone who has not yet acquired the book or who is finishing off other reads before starting won't be deterred from posting their own comments and questions as they begin reading. In particular, for those of you reading for the first time, what was your reaction to the opening sentence/paragraph? Was it what you expected? Did it immediately draw you in, or take you aback?
I'm happy for those who've finished already to discuss away! I'll look underneath the spoiler tags after I've had a chance to read it. I'm looking forward to it more now since it's already generated so much excitement!
I've finished it and love all the spoiler comments, but to get to your question, Julia, I hadn't read this book in perhaps 2 decades, so the first sentence was as if new and got my attention in a good way. My favorite genre is mystery, so it was all in a day's work, as it were.
If I waited very long after finishing the book to make my comments, I probably wouldn't...the details would leave me!
>67 rosalita: Sorry, Julia.
I like the question you pose. I think the beginning surprised me, but it also drew me in. I really thought
I just received a library notice telling me that Nerve is ready for me to pick up at the library! I probably won't get a chance to pick it up before Saturday, though.
I read the first three chapters yesterday and it’s starting to pick up now after an intro to the main character and his background. It really did start off with a bang (sorry) and I like that, right out of the gate (sorry), Francis made me interested in the who and the why.
>74 Copperskye: Good to hear, Joanne! (I'm just going to overlook those puns, in hopes of not encouraging you. Ha!)
It's amazing how many words and phrases in colloquial English (American English and British, not always quite the same ones) come from horse racing. Well, that was the source of a lot of Francis' titles - not all, but a good chunk.
I picked up the library copy of Nerve yesterday and finished it this afternoon. Once I started reading I didn't want to stop.
As far as the first cousin marriage goes, I have so many in my family tree that it doesn't bother me, and they're all my Indiana ancestors. I'd have to do a little more research to find when the law changed to prohibit first cousin marriages, but it seems to have been around the turn of the 20th century. The state legislature afterward legalized all existing first cousin marriages that took place before the law prohibiting it was enacted.
Thank you, Julia, for getting this started! I am looking forward to the next read, although I'll be sorry to leave Rob Finn behind.
As much as I want to read Nerve in January, I suspect it will be February. When it rains, it pours. I still have two library books checked out from over Christmas. One of those is partially read. I've got an audiobook going. I just had 3 ebook holds come in over the weekend. Since those can't be renewed, they'll take priority. I might still sneak it in under the wire, but it looks less likely. It's a good thing this challenge was set up to allow two months per book!
I finished it! A very quick read (even for me) and I liked it a lot. I looked through the spoilers and agree with many of the comments.
As always in Dick Francis’ books, I loved the steeplechase/horsey backgrounds. He had an obvious affection and knowledge of all things horse racing and it shows in his books.
Julia - are there other books with Finn as the protagonist? I liked him a lot.
>79 Copperskye: Excellent comment, Joanne - I think that was what was bothering me the most.
>79 Copperskye: No, Francis did very few continuing protagonists. Sid Halley has...four books, I think (though the last one may have been Felix). The other protagonist with more than one book is Kit Fielding, who we'll be reading later this year - the last two books in this shared read. I don't think there's any others - and yeah, I'd have loved to see more of quite a few of his heroes.
Thanks to Jen, Carrie, Lori, Joanne and Mamie for carrying the conversation while I have been down for the count with a monster winter cold! Some comments from me:
>78 thornton37814: Carrie, thanks for the insight into
>79 Copperskye: Joanne,
And no, we never meet up with Rob Finn again, but he is very much of a type that Francis employs over and over again: Stoic, humble, not seeing himself as heroic and yet performing heroic acts. The prototype Francis protagonist fits the definition of courage as "not the absence of fear, but action despite fear."
>80 Crazymamie: Clearly not a minority view, Mamie. I'm glad you've all brought it up; it's made for good discussion.
>81 jjmcgaffey: The last Halley book was by son Felix, Jen. I've never read any of the Felix books so they might be perfectly fine. I just tend to avoid all continuations of the sort. And yes, we'll meet Kit toward the end of the year. I know he's not your favorite — or perhaps it's more accurate to say the second of those books is not a favorite of yours? — and I'm looking forward to hearing why when we get there.
One of the aspects that strikes me about Nerve and indeed about many of Francis' books is the degree of physical trauma that he puts his protagonists through, and his descriptions of how that much pain feels seem almost uncomfortably accurate. It's tempting to think that no one could endure what Rob goes through and come out whole on the other side, but I think Francis' extensive experience as a steeplechase jockey gave him a finely tuned sense of just how much physical pain could be endured by a human body. That sounds a bit grim, but I wonder if you all agree or disagree? Did you think the level of description in those sections was too much? Just enough?
Mamie was kind enough to send me her copy (my library doesn't carry it), so I can finally start reading it! I think I have to go back to >57 laytonwoman3rd: and read the discussion a bit later.
I've finished it too. Excellent choice, Julia! I've added "drive-yourself car" (instead of "rental car" or "hire car") to the quaint 60s vocabulary of "television set" and "telephoning to" someone.
>85 susanj67: I think you make a good point about the relationship between Rob and Joanna.
>82 rosalita: I don't mind Kit, as I recall (while I've read the books, I didn't rate or review them, and it's been a few years); I got really tired of Halley and his arm.
>83 rosalita: It's definitely a thing for Francis. In every one of his books, the protagonist takes major damage and keeps going. In _most_ of the books, he stops in to a (usually racecourse) doctor, who tapes him up/splints his bones/whatever, while commenting that the protagonist will of course take off the protection long before the doctor would recommend it. And I strongly suspect that that's real life and Francis' experience as a jockey talking.
I actually prefer it to the Bond version, where the protagonist is horribly beaten and the next day he's fine and dancing. Francis at least shows some of the effects and aftereffects of the damage - sometimes it's even a major plot point.
>83 rosalita: I saw Francis interviewed on TV once when he was asked about his personal injuries. He was apparently near death at least once after falls. I thought he tried to downplay the seriousness of the injuries, saying that it was just part of the job.
I have also read that after his bad fall during his last race for the Queen, she asked him to retire from riding her horses. I took that to mean she was concerned for him because her horse, at full speed toward the finish line, fell and he was badly injured. I'm pretty sure that was his last race before retiring to writing.
I suppose he generally includes description of injury to the jockey both because it is part of the job but also adds drama.
>87 jjmcgaffey: Ah, I must have confused you with someone else, Jen. I agree about Sid Halley, though the first one was good. The more realistic depiction of the effects of physical trauma, while sometimes a bit gruesome, are much preferable to the "takes a licking and keeps on ticking" mode of Jack Reacher and his ilk. Though I love Reacher in his own way, don't get me wrong.
>88 clue: I've read that too, Luanne. And of course it's not just Francis' jockeys that come in for a beating; his main characters in later novels are usually not jockeys at all but still face various physical tests. I just think Francis could write very realistically about the effects of pain based on his jockey career. What a rough life.
>88 clue: Very interesting- thanks for sharing!
>83 rosalita: I think Francis’ descriptions of injuries are very realistic and necessary. The dangers associated with steeplechasing really add excitement to the stories. I remember reading some of his books when I was in my teens and thinking how different those solid fences, uneven ground, and other horses racing you were from the fences I was jumping which were rails set in cups that would fall if tipped and smooth footing and no other horse vying for the best take off spot!
Another thing that made a big impression on me was the constant efforts of the jockeys to keep their weight in check. Talk about sacrifices for a job you love.
I enjoyed re-reading Nerve. As soon as his would-be romance with Joanna came up, I was like "Oh yeah, I remember this one."
Rob Finn gets some pretty banged up in this one, too. I'm sure some of the physical stoicism comes from Dick Francis's real-life steeplechasing, as Julia describes up in >2 rosalita:.
Here is a quote I liked, spoiler-covered. It's in response to a nasty question implying Rob and others like him rode just to be in the spotlight in their bright silks, to "flatter their little egos", and that they shouldn't complain about the poor pay.
One reason Dick Francis’s mysteries are fairly easy to find is the contracts he made to keep his books in print as long as he produced one a year. That may only apply to the original English versions.
>79 Copperskye: >80 Crazymamie: >82 rosalita:
>81 jjmcgaffey: I have read some of the Felix Francis books and won’t again. Even the collaboration was lacking something of the Dick Francis's books, mostly in the female lead, but also in the writing. I tossed Refusal across the room and left it unfinished because of the type of blackmail used against Sid Halley.
Still waiting for my copy, but since one of my other interests is genealogy, and specifically English genealogy, I would like to clear up a point.
Marrying a first cousin is legal in England. Frowned upon, but legal.
>90 Copperskye: Oh gosh, Joanne, the weight cutting sounds brutal, doesn't it? Such tremendous self-restraint. I am a big fan of wrestling (not the cartoony professional WWE stuff; the real thing) and wrestlers also can put themselves through extreme weight-cutting measures. There have been a lot of advancements in requiring the cuts to be done more safely over the past few decades. I wonder if the same concerns apply to jockeys?
>91 jnwelch: That is a great quote, Joe! Thanks for highlighting it; it really stood out to me, too.
>92 quondame: I did not know that tidbit about why Francis' books have remained in print, Susan — thanks for sharing it! And thanks for confirming my pre-formed opinion that the Felix Francis books aren't up to snuff.
>93 MsMixte: I hope you get your copy soon, Margaret, but at least we have through the end of February to discuss so we'll be here for you when you're ready to chat. And thank you for the legal point re first cousins marrying. I think the laws are all over the place in the U.S. since they are set at the state level.
I am joining you all for this book. I don't remember ever reading Dick Francis but now I will read more. I really enjoyed the book as I am a horse lover as well as someone who appreciates well written books especially on a subject I don't know much about. I always think fiction is amazing in the amount of knowledge you can gain about the world.
I was also shocked by the first cousins' interaction and found this on Wikipedia:
As of February 2014, 24 U.S. states prohibit marriages between first cousins, 19 U.S. states allow marriages between first cousins, and 7 U.S. states allow only some marriages between first cousins.
I wonder if you have to have genetic testing these days? Of course not available in the book's time.
I've read over 1/3 of Nerve. I'm not feeling the love yet. Please tell me it gets better!
I found a genealogical blog post about cousin marriage that identifies famous people who married their cousins. Charles Darwin married his first cousin. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were first cousins. https://blog.eogn.com/2014/10/26/can-you-marry-your-cousin/
The romance in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park is between first cousins Fanny and Edmund. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy's aunt and his mother apparently intended for Darcy to marry his first cousin (although Darcy's mother was dead so we don't really know what she thought about the match). Jane Austen's brother, Henry, married their first cousin, Eliza. https://austenauthors.net/marrying-a-cousin/
>96 thornton37814: If you're not hooked by now, you probably won't be. I had a hard time putting it down by the time I'd read that far. It's more thriller than whodunit.
>95 dallenbaugh: Welcome aboard, Donna! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I know just what you mean about being able to learn so much from fiction. That ability to take the reader inside a profession they are not familiar with is one of the things that I most enjoy about the Dick Francis novels.
>96 thornton37814: >98 cbl_tn: Echoing what Carrie said, Lori. I was drawn in immediately, both when I read it long ago and on this most recent re-read. It may just not be your thing, unfortunately.
>97 cbl_tn: I always think of royals as being sort of the "poster children" for intermarrying closely, Carrie, but I had forgotten that Fanny and Edmund were first cousins in Mansfield Park. I don't remember there being much commentary about it within the book, but then it is set in a very different time period when the stigma was probably not nearly as strong.
And how can I have forgotten my Trollope until just now?
Well, I finally got the book from the library, but also committed to reading a couple of fantasy chunksters, so I don't know if I'll get around to finishing it before I have to take it back. These books sound like they would be right up my alley!
I've read all the Dick Francis books and some of the Felix ones so I'll probably reread along with you. I don't really dislike the ones by Felix and even own a couple but the best by his father are well above them.
As far as cousins go, first cousins share an eighth (12.5%) of their DNA and second cousins about 3% on average. The real problem genetically is whether they both have dangerous recessive genes. Culturally, it depends on the region where they come from as to whether it is acceptable. Some parts of the U.S. Southeast have had a lot of intermarrying with nearly everyone being related.
Finished Nerve tonight. I thoroughly enjoyed it, I had read it before but several years ago.
On the subject of Dick vs Felix. I liked them writing together because it seemed to me the writing was updated a bit. When it comes to storytelling though I'm not sure Felix alone will live up to his dad's books but I'll read them at least for awhile.
As you may know, Dick Francis and P.D. James were great friends and the two couples apparently spent a lot of time together through the years. I have, and have read James' autobiography but I can't remember if she wrote about him. I'm going to dig it out and see what I find. He was the last survivor of the four and I was glad he seemed to have a good relationship with Felix in and outside of the book collaboration since his wife and old friends of many years were gone.
As you can see I have a very personal relationship with my authors!
>104 clue: I did not know that about P. D. James and Dick Francis. I have her autobiography around somewhere, I think. I should dig it out.
Just in time I found a copy of Nerve and have read it immediately :-)
(Eta) and see now I had one more month to read it...
It was my first Dick Francis book, and it won't be my last. It was a bit on the scary side, so I went for the last chapter when I was halfway.
I also found copies of the two planned books for September-December, the other three I can get from the library.
I love that you read half way and then went to the last chapter to reassure yourself, Anita! This made me smile.
>107 Crazymamie: Happy to make you smile, Mamie, I always do when a book gets scary. Otherwise I would not be able to read on.
>106 FAMeulstee: I often succumb to this urge. There are books I can't relax into unless I know the shape of them. I re-read a lot, and often enjoy re-reads more than first reads.
>109 quondame: Glad I am not the only one. I often enjoy re-reads too, for the same reason.
>104 clue: I love learning he and James were friends - thanks for that bit of knowledge!
>108 FAMeulstee: I’ll do that sometimes, too. Especially when I’m concerned about secondary characters.
I was struggling to find something to read last night (too many choices!) but somehow settled into another Francis book that I had checked out of the library when I returned Nerve. So now I’m reading To the Hilt...
>111 Copperskye: That was the first Francis I read - no, the second. The first one I read was Hot Money, because my mom was reading To The Hilt - as we were on a driving tour through the area where he's leading the horse (don't know if you've gotten that far yet). I have a strong fondness for both of them, beyond the fact that they're good books and good Francises.
>112 jjmcgaffey: I did get to that part just this afternoon (and so glad he opted to lead the horse rather than ride) and then spent a fair amount of time googling the Downs and Lambourn and thinking how beautiful it was and really a heaven on earth for a horse person. What a wonderful driving tour that must have been!
>113 Copperskye: It was - from London, up to Shrewsbury (where we toured the monastery, since we're all hooked on Brother Cadfael), over to Ireland (Liverpool to Dublin) for our second driving tour there (a counter-clockwise loop), and back from Cork to Plymouth, and up through the Downs back to London (where I was going to university - actually in Richmond). And then I raided the local libraries for every Dick Francis book I could find...
>114 jjmcgaffey: Very nice! I also would have grabbed up every Dick Francis book around.
I just finished To the Hilt and loved it! (Am I once again failing at a group read because I’m reading beyond the books chosen? Normally, I just read in the wrong month. Hmm....) :)
Thanks, Julia, for reigniting my interest in this author.
>116 jnwelch: Joe! That is the book for March-April! This is February! Are you going to be a rule-breaker all year? I overlooked Joanne's transgression because she read a book that we haven't scheduled yet, but you are just flouting the rules. ;-)
>117 rosalita: He's showing off, that's what he's doing... or he's just in a grand hurry for better weather, like all of us, and trying to shove February out of the way.
>118 laytonwoman3rd: You might be on to something! Heck, I'll read it tonight if it will bring spring earlier.
Pretty much read Nerve straight through. I have loved Dick Francis books in the past and this was no exception. (Thanks, Mamie for the book!)
>121 jnwelch: I've been known to disappear into Dick Francis novels for weeks. Not to many weeks as they are fast reads.
Still waiting for my book to arrive via post. May be a while since postal service is being disrupted by snow. Scheduled to arrive on Wednesday, but don't have much faith in that estimate.
Too bad, since it's rather dull around here due to being house-bound!
>122 quondame: I'm with you, Susan. Please convince Julia that some people are bound to read a little ahead because his books are so disappear-into-able, and really such people, whoever they may be, deserve to be forgiven if such an understandable slip-up occurs.
>124 jnwelch: My words could hardly be more eloquent than yours! Surely everyone in this group depends on forbearance and forgiveness for all the reading sins.
>121 jnwelch: Hmmmm....that seems completely believable. :-)
What I hear you and Susan saying is that you would rather that we were reading one book per month? But when I conducted an informal poll on my thread last year, the only answers were "every other month" and "I don't care" ...
Anyway, it's all in good fun. I'm no dictator and y'all can read whatever you want, whenever you want. Enjoy!
>125 quondame: LOL!
>126 Berly:, >128 Crazymamie: Me three!
>127 rosalita: So I wasted all that time
On the other hand, I'm sure to screw up again before the year is over, so this is a relief. Thanks, Julia.
>127 rosalita: No truly, I don't care, I just read what I read. I happen to have lots of books checked out that don't happen to be by Dick Francis and it hasn't been too many years since I wallowed in that oeuvre, so, speaking for myself alone, any pace at all is just fine by me.
(for those who need to read Dick Francis after having finished Nerve, I'd like to remind you that there are 34 other novels written by Dick Francis, 4 co-written with his son Felix, and 8 written by Felix after Dick Francis's death.)
Just sayin'. *smile*
>131 karenmarie: No need to read him. I decided those are safe to avoid.
Have we started discussions yet?
For those who are not horse owners, I thought I would post a link to show everyone what a 'harness hook' is. Often called a bridle cleaning hook.
Ah, then I shall add a few thoughts.
I first read the Dick Francis books about 15 years ago, before I owned horses. I have always loved horses--one of my first memories is of me trundling down to the San Gabriel river, approximately one half mile from home, because one of my classmates had told me that there were HORSES!!! down at the river. I was all of 5 or 6 years old at the time.
One thing which struck me was that Finn essentially treats most horses as almost interchangeable cogs. They have quirks, and different work ethics, but there doesn't seem to be much love for them. I have a couple of friends who are race horse owners, and every single one of their jockeys loves horses. It's why and how they are jockeys. Finn doesn't really seem to express much love for horses, but he definitely loves the idea of winning. But Finn does give us a good feel for the challenge and strategy of steeplechase racing, especially in the description of a couple of the races.
>135 MsMixte: I'd guess people who choose to work with horses do so from love for them, but if I were a jockey I'd make sure the owners I rode for knew I loved them. I was privileged to be sent for riding lessons as a pre-teen, and while I loved riding, I didn't get into the romance of horses. They were big and sometimes temperamental to 10yr old me who did not, like my non-riding friends, have model horses all over my bedroom.
Finn does seem to respect his rides and take care of them.
Yes, you are correct that he does seem to have respect for most of them, and he definitely does his best to work with them to the best of their ability.
I've never thought of Francis's jockeys as not loving horses. I guess I'll have to reread more of the books to see if I can pick up on it either way.
We had horses for about 5 years. Tack room, stalls, hay barn, 3 pastures, paddock, riding ring. After daughter went off to college and husband complained about the work, I told him to sell or give the horses away. Rather than do the work himself, he did. They are lovely and temperamental animals. Lots of hard work. We still have daughter's Breyer horses on display on a shelf in what is now my Retreat. *smile*
I've finished Nerve and I liked it.
He only has one vulnerable job and that is his love for his cousin. But even there he shows greatness, simply by being able to wait until she can accept his love.
It sometimes occurred to me that Rob must be an old man with a lot of life experience.
>140 Ameise1: Heh. Have you read Decider? Most of Francis' heroes do seem to have a...deeper? Clearer? something view of life and people. In Decider, a youngish man (maybe middle-aged, but I think in his late 30s at most) is asked to decide - to throw the deciding vote in a family quarrel, with few of the characters younger than he is and several much older. But he's got the distance to make a wiser decision (and, it turns out, the special knowledge - again, like most Francis heroes). One of my favorites.
>141 jjmcgaffey: Jennifer, I haven't read that one. Thanks for the tip I'll put it on my wishlist. You're right most of Francis heroes are like Rob.
I remember Decider as a favorite, too. I may re-read it as a side dish to this group read.
I just started reading Nerve - I'll squeak it in before the end of the month!
I read through the comments quickly but skipped the spoilers.
It's never too late! I'll look forward to reading your comments when you've finished it.
I just finished Nerve. It's one I hadn't read before, but I have read and enjoyed about a dozen or so of Francis's books.
One of the things I like best about his novels is that he gets the horses right. There are so very few authors that do that. Either the horses are over-romanticized or it's clear that the author isn't a horse person.
I did wonder a bit that none of the stable staff or trainers noticed the twenty horses that had been drugged were off when Finn dismounted and handed them over. One was so tired, it 'had it's head down to its knees'. That's not a sign of a horse being held back.
It was a good story, though, and I enjoyed all the discussion above about Finn and the hero's journey.
>151 streamsong: I'm glad you've raised that point! Your post reminded me that I also wondered about why none of the grooms or trainers noticed Finn's drugged mounts after races. In my case a lack of knowledge let me wave it off with a "This probably makes sense to people who know how horse racing works." But I appreciate your insight that it was in fact unusual that they wouldn't notice.
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