While travelling we’ve started listening to one of Dick Francis’ older books on tape - Against the Odds. It stars Francis’ most used character, Syd Halley, the jockey who lost a hand in a racing fall. Coincidentally, I’ve just finished one of Francis’ most recent books, Under Orders, which also stars Syd Halley, now with an electronic hand in place of the one he lost.
I’d been looking forward to reading this recent book, but it turns out to be a bit flaccid in places, padded in others, and with a weak ending. This is most unusual for Francis, as his books have normally appeared taut to me, and invariably the ending is violent and takes up a substantial amount of room in the later part of the story. Perhaps the fact that this is the first book he’s written since his wife died is part of the problem, or maybe he’s can no longer be bothered.
Syd still goes on about his (electronic) hand frequently. Plainly it’s something that bugs him a good deal, or maybe Francis thought we needed constant reminding of it, since it affects the ending. Syd apparently hasn’t aged much at all, as he has a fairly young girlfriend in this story, and he still has plenty of that old ability to recover from knocks to his body. And whereas in the book we’re listening to he’s plainly living in the 70s, in this new book he talks about things that belong to the current age: computers, cellphones, digital cameras, you name it. And the language has changed too; his characters swear - in the past they ‘uttered a stream of curses.’ The language is still nowhere near as offensive as many other thrillers, but it comes as a bit of a surprise to find it in one of Francis’ books.
Regrettably I have to say this is one Dick Francis I didn’t enjoy much. Maybe his wife did contribute more to his books than we’d thought!