Thursday, October 1, 2009

Review: "Even Money" by Dick & Felix Francis

After a long career in which he published some 42 books, nearly all mystery novels involving in some way horse racing in Great Britain, Dick Francis retired. His beloved wife, the person who had done most of the research for those books, had died, and I suppose he simply didn't have the heart to go on without her.

Fortunately for his fans, including me, his son talked him into writing again and they have now co-authored three mysteries. Recently I won a copy of the third one, "Even Money."

One thing I've always loved about Francis books is that I learn about something fascinating even though it's a topic I never dreamed I would find at all interesting. In his younger days Dick Francis was a jockey. After an injury ended that career, he began writing. In "Even Money" the hero is a bookmaker at tracks in England where this is legal. Math is certainly not my forte and I've never bet on anything in my life, so that part of the story went right over my head. Still, I learned much about identifying race horses, ringers, and such.

Ned Talbot, the hero, is portrayed expertly, something we've come to expect in a Francis story. Talbot's personal life and profession as well as the mystery he becomes entangled in draw the reader in with the result that this is a can't-put-it-down book. All the chores I should have been doing were still waiting to be done when I reluctantly finished the book.

You see, Ned's father supposedly had died 36 years earlier when Ned was a year old. Ned had always been told his parents died together in a car crash and he was raised by his paternal grandparents. Then one day a man shows up at Royal Ascot claiming to be Ned's father and their conversation convinces Ned he is telling the truth. A short while later they are walking through the parking lot together when they are attacked and Dad is stabbed to death in the assault. You can imagine Ned's head is reeling. Meanwhile he is dealing with the institutionalization of his bipolar wife and the problems of other major characters, all beautifully drawn.

I like the fact that when something frightening happens such as the assault in the parking lot, Ned is properly scared. I hate it when characters in mysteries do foolishly dangerous things and you're thinking, "No, don't go in there, you fool!" or something similar. Ned is just an ordinary man suddenly thrust into a mystery and he reacts just as you and I would.

I had missed the first two books in this collaboration but I'll certainly read them now.

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