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Rat Race by Dick Francis

Rat Race (1971)

by Dick Francis

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
All Francis's usual style - and this time with a pilot instead of a jockey, just for variation and extra drama. Very, very readable. ( )
  AmberMcWilliams | Nov 26, 2015 |
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 |
Rat Race 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.

Rat Race is somewhere between target and principled bystander. Our hero is pilot Matt Shore, who's been reduced to flying racing commuters (jockeys, trainers, owners) around to different race tracks, after a once-glorious career as passenger airline pilot. During his first week, a bomb explodes his plane just after he and the passengers disembark. Given a previous safety inquiry shadowing his reputation, the investigators give him the fish eye, at least to start. So he's not the target, per se, but in the thick of it for sure.

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. Rat Race entails more of an emotional beating, but the inevitable physical confrontation is still there.

I now have more of a personal connection to Rat Race, because one of the characters is dealing with cancer. 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. ( )
2 vote justchris | Mar 17, 2011 |
The formula is much the same in Rat Race as in other of Dick Francis's books (a laconic hero thrust into the middle of killing and treachery) but this one has some nice moments in it that are missing in later novels. Dick Francis was a pilot in WWII and then owned an air taxi service with his wife. There is an air rescue passage in the book that is very tense and believable. Dick used heroes in many different walks of life throughout his career and some of the action scenes in other books seem windy and feel like filler. Not so in this book, the air scenes are very taut and fit well into the story, especially the air rescue scene where his soon to be girlfriend 's plane has been sabotaged.

There is another scene where a brother and two sisters invite Matt on a picinic with them that is quiet but also well done. But perhaps the best scene in the book is when Matt visits the Duke late at night and watches as he plays with his nephew in an attic on an elaborate train set. It has nothing to do with the plot but is a good definition of who the Duke is and why he ultimately is susceptible to cons and thieves. And while the ending of the book returns to the formula with the hero being attacked violently and being pushed past the point of endurance only to fight through courageously to the end and win the hand of the girl, this book still has several very nice moments that recommend it. ( )
  markatread | Jun 13, 2010 |
Rat Race is based at an airplane taxi service that carries jockeys and trainers to races; is it attempted murder and will someone die the next time?

As you can see, I like Dick Francis. I own all his fiction and read it once a year of so. My whole family likes Dick Francis; we all collect his books and my father buys extra paperback copies to hand out in airports and train stations. The books are light and easy to read, a couple of hours each.
  sara_k | Sep 19, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dick Francisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hoff, TrulsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schel, TillyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I picked four of them up at White Waltham in the new Cherokee Six 300 that never got a chance to grow old.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0425210766, Mass Market Paperback)

Hired to fly four racing buffs to the track, pilot Matt Shore expects it will be the kind of job he likes: quick and easy. Until, that is, he’s forced to make an emergency landing just minutes before the plane explodes. Luckily, no one is hurt, but it isn’t long before Matt realizes that he’s caught up in the rat race of violent criminals who are dead-set on putting anyone who stands in their way on the wrong side of the odds…

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:35 -0400)

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Assigned to fly four racing buffs to the track, pilot Matt Shore is forced to make an emergency landing, and he soon finds out that the mob has been tampering with the horseracing industry.

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