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In the Frame by Dick Francis

In the Frame (original 1978; edition 1994)

by Dick Francis

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895129,862 (3.63)16
Title:In the Frame
Authors:Dick Francis
Info:Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, 1994.
Collections:Your library, Read, Sports Related
Tags:Sports MYS Horse, Horse Racing, British Author, Own, Amateur Detective, Racing Fiction, Horse Racing Fiction, Fiction, Sports Fiction, Mystery, British Fiction, Male Protagonist, Read

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In the Frame by Dick Francis (1978)

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Good solid Dick Francis. The technical aspects were well done, the character parts less so. The British view of Australia was interesting. The criminal activity was fairly well thought out, but some of the actions of the protagonist were non-sensical. In Dick Francis novel's the protagonist must be, at some point, actually captured by the bad guys. ( )
  themulhern | Jun 17, 2014 |
I read this book before I was ever aware of LibraryThing or quite possible before it was even available. Dick Francis is one of my all time best authors. I find ever book to well be written and you don't want to stop reading until it is finished. The story line is always associated directly or indirectly with horse racing. I would highly recommend Dick Francis' books to anyone who loves a good mystery story. My rating is based on my knowledge of his work and how much I enjoy reading them. ( )
  DocWalt10 | Jun 3, 2012 |
Charles Todd is an English artist who is well known and respected for his renderings of sleek and athletic horses. What he now faces at his cousin Donald's house is also art - the art of a perfectly brutal murder. Donald's home has been burgled and his wife, Regina, is lying on her back dead, her face the colour of cream. Donald is shattered, shocked, and a prime suspect. And Todd suddenly finds himself involved in a dangerous manhunt as he searches, against all the odds, for an elusive killer and some murderous answers.
  SalemAthenaeum | Oct 23, 2011 |
In the Frame is one of many, many novels by the British author Dick Francis. His novels are a lot of fun, just as much brainless fluff as romances, but instead represent the action genre and generally shelved in mysteries. And just like the romance genre, these action stories rely on formulaic plot and entertaining dialogue rather than character development. However, they do have charm and share insights on the human condition.

The first novel I encountered was Flying Finish. It was a bit slow to begin because I found the hero rather unsympathetic, but by the end I was hooked. Then I tried The Edge, which was a treat, right from the start. I proceeded to blaze through all of the Francis novels published at that time (1990s). I haven't kept up with the more recent works. I would consider these a comfort read, in terms of being something pleasant and enjoyable. But I don't own any.

I was sorry to learn while getting background for these reviews that Dick Francis died just over a year ago. He used to be a professional jockey and retired young enough to develop a long second career. From sports writer he went into fiction. At first, his protagonists and stories were entirely set in the racing world: jockeys, horse owners, trainers, race tracks, the Jockey Club, and so on. These stories are an intimate portrayal of the racing life from the inside, much as Nevada Barr has done for the relatively small, closed world of career national park staff. Over time, he started exploring other professions as well: banker, pilot, architect, diplomat, wine taster/merchant, actor, glassblower, meteorologist, inventor/entrepreneur, ransom consultant, and so on. In each case, he has clearly done his research and gives excellent descriptions of each of these professions as an avocation--the passion that drives people into such fields; the activities, skills, and concerns involved; a look at a day in the life--once again, something of an intimate, inside look, but derived from interviews and research and experimentation rather than deep-seated personal experience. But even in these cases, there's some link to the racing world. The banker makes a business loan for a stud stallion; the artist paints horses or is related to a horse owner; the wine merchant is at a ritzy party (horse owner) when tragedy strikes; the kidnap victim is a female jockey.

So what is the formula? The Dick Francis hero is always a smart, capable, quiet, white, straight, cis man going about his business. Then something shady happens, and our hero is forced to get involved, either because he's the target and really has no choice, or because his personal principles do not allow him to remain a bystander/leave it for law enforcement/pretend it isn't important. Sometimes this happens only after coincidences allow him to make unexpected connections.

Such is the case for In the Frame. Charles Todd, a painter of horses, visits his cousin for the weekend and walks into a murder scene, with the bereaved widower cousin as the chief suspect in the police inspector's insurance-fraud-gone-horribly-awry scenario. Soon afterward, he's hired by someone just met at a racetrack bar to paint the burned-out shell of a house--arson is confirmed, and once again insurance fraud suspected. What do these completely unrelated incidents have in common? A recent trip to Australia and purchase of an amazingly affordable painting by a reknowned artist. And so the action unfolds.

While the heroes are always of a type, I appreciate that Dick Francis always mixes up the personal details. Their backgrounds and current entanglements run the gamut. Hardscrabble childhood, life of wealth and privilege, broken homes, foster system, dysfunctional family, stable happily married parents, alcoholism. depression, no mental health issues, chronic health problems, debilitating injury, only child, many siblings, un/happily married, un/happily single, un/happily divorced, un/happily widowered, looking to get laid/settle down/find freedom/not really looking, wife meets social ideals/physically handicapped/estranged/loving/tolerant/bitter/forgiving, no kids/lots of kids/small child, family/in-laws loved/despised/distant/underfoot/nonexistent, whatever. He really does seem to try out just about every combo involving a straight white cis guy.

This is not to say he is homophobic or racist or otherwise bigoted as such, though people of color and strong women are rare (beyond the largely asexual forceful horsewoman of whatever stripe). In his many books, I recall all of two mentions of gay characters, both positive yet very minor. One is in The Edge: the actor who teaches our hero about makeup and disguises; the other is the gay couple who teach the hero of Reflex photography in his youth.

There's always a love interest. Sometimes it's wifey back home. Sometimes it's a new love met in the course of the adventure. Or maybe it's explored but not yet fulfilled: Rat Race, where they meet, they date, they each know it's "the one" (we won't go into how trite and problematic this trope can be) but leaping to conclusions and bad-guy intervention leads to angst before reconciliation, so no consummation within the plotline. Other times it's mentally acknowledged and recognized as out of bounds, for example, In the Frame, usually because she already belongs to somebody (yay, property! yes, yes, it's not meant this way, male honor and all that). Other times they meet, they have sex, and it looks it'll be an enduring relationship. Sometimes the hero even has sex but not with his real love interest! While these female characters often have some personality, they have a very limited role and only as adjuncts to the men.

These formulaic action novels fulfill sexist stereotypes of the genre to varying degrees, and looked at more carefully, one could argue that the sexism might go a little beyond that. In the Frame contains all of three female characters: Regina, the murdered wife in the opening scene, a classic women-in-refrigerators motif; Sarah the newlywed of our hero's oldest friend, whose last name we never learn, presumably changed to her husband's; and one of the bad guys who is never named, in fact the ONLY one who is never named, even though she plays more of a role than some of the other villains. That last fact is what makes me consider implicit sexism in the writing. And yet. Our hero is shocked and appalled at the explicit sexism in Australian racing, in terms of gender-segregated seating, where the women definitely have inferior accommodations. He makes a point of sitting there when meeting a male character, after sitting in that section by necessity in mixed company (and unwilling to separate). That's a pretty feminist act, and essentially irrelevant in terms of the story, but perhaps a necessary detail for defining the protagonist's character (read: moral fiber).

This is intended to stand in contrast to the villains. They are always working some fiddle that entails getting rich by ripping off one or many people, depending on the scheme. Or they simply want power in the racing world and will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. Inevitably, they rely on violence to achieve their ends, or simply act out their frustration at being foiled (Curses! If it hadn't been for you snoopy kids!). So our villains are immoral, sometimes sleazy, sometimes powerful, determined, dangerous. Their character is revealed as less than shiny by the usual methods: mean to animals and children, into kinky sex, bullying, arrogance, and so on. Good guys are good, and bad guys are bad. But at least Dick Francis recognizes that moral quality is not proportional to physical attractiveness.

Our hero stands in contrast: he outsmarts the bad guys, relying on strategy and allies to gather the evidence, box the villains into a corner, extract justice, or otherwise respond to the threat. Often he takes quite a beating along the way. Such is the case with In the Frame, where they try to kill him twice. Twice! But even with broken bones, our hero is able to outmaneuver them.

After my recent trip to Australia, I especially enjoyed rereading In the Frame, which goes from England to Australia. Admittedly, the only scenes in the book that I have some personal experience with are some parts of Sydney, but still the thrill of recognition and delight! Who knew that I would have a greater appreciation for pop fiction revisits as a result of the plot twists in my own life?

In sum, I still enjoy these fast-paced action adventures. I find them educational and rewarding in terms of painting portraits of different livelihoods and always the view of British sporting life. The characters remain individuals within a limited formula. I can live with the endemic faults far better than those in much of the historical fiction I've tried, because Dick Francis immerses us in these worlds quite successfully, and I'm more able to suspend my disbelief for just a little while, even as I admit to some of the ridiculous coincidences and awful stereotypes. Dick Francis novels will always be a go-to read when I need to kill a few hours with a book that is sure to entertain. ( )
  justchris | Mar 17, 2011 |
This is an interesting book. The protagonist of this book is Charles. He is a painter, and he visits his cousins's house. He decides to help his cousins when he knew his cousins's house was stole and his wife was killed. The beginning of the story is very attracting. In my opinion, the author is good at writing. The writer has very great logical ideas about this story. ( )
1 vote Hengyi | Mar 7, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
This is an interesting book. The protagonist of this book is Charles. He is a painter, and he visits his cousins's house. He decides to help his cousins when he knew his cousins's house was stole and his wife was killed. The beginning of the story is very attracting. In my opinion, the author is good at writing. The writer has very great logical ideas about this story.
added by Hengyi | editIn the Frame (Jan 19, 2011)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 042520958X, Mass Market Paperback)

Charles Todd—a renowned painter of horses—is shocked when he turns up at his cousin Donald’s house for a weekend visit to find his cousin’s young wife dead on the floor—and Donald the police’s prime suspect. Determined to prove Donald’s innocence, Todd trails a set of clues from England to Australia to New Zealand, only to realize that someone is trailing him. Someone with every intention of taking him out of the picture for good…

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:19 -0400)

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Murder isn't in the cards; it's in the family.

(summary from another edition)

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