Wednesday, 3 February 2010

#7 Even Money, by Dick Francis and Felix Francis (Penguin Group)

It’s interesting how your tastes in literature change and develop over the years, although I appreciate this is an obvious statement. As a kid, I devoured the Hardy Boys books, for example, and, a bit later, horse-racing thrillers by Dick Francis.

Or were they by Francis, a former jockey and the man on board the Queen Mother’s nag, Devon Loch, when it notoriously and mysteriously fell for no reason when winning the 1956 Grand National by a street? Not completely, said an unauthorised biography a few years ago, which suggested that while Francis came up with the plots and characters, his wife Mary was an uncredited co-writer and took care of most of the editing.

Sadly, she died in 2000, and Francis’ latest offering, Even Money – written with his son Felix, who has managed to bag a credit for his efforts – doesn’t live up to earlier classics, such as Odds Against, Whip Hand and Twice Shy.

But were they so good in the first place? Reading Even Money, the tale of a bookmaker who discovers his previously dead father is in fact alive (although not for long) and mixed up in illegally swapping the identity of horses, I was struck by its simplistic nature.

This can be a good thing. The books is far from challenging, so I raced through it – just what you need when you’re trying to read 100 books in a year…

But while the plot is mildly interesting, and the characters OK (indeed, one has depression, which provided a nice link to the book I had just finished, All in the Mind), I started to get annoyed by the inclusion of things which seemed to be there just because they were topical, rather than as an integral part of the novel.

To take one example: at one stage, the bookmaker’s assistant goes to a party, which ends up being trashed by uninvited guests who have learned of its existence via the Facebook social networking site. Fair enough, but the reader is not actually at the party, merely hears about it from the assistant, who takes great pains to explain how such an event happens. Great, you think, they’re spending so much time on this it must be pivotal to the plot. Alas, it’s never referred to again.

Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but I can’t help thinking that Francis’ previous work was better, more thrilling and more tightly put together. Maybe I’ll go back and read a couple to find out…

So, rating time:

#7 Even Money, by Dick Francis and Felix Francis (Penguin Group) - 5/10

Next up: Tunnel Vision, by Keith Lowe (Simon & Schuster)

  • Click here for the full list of books so far, and their rating
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