Dick Francis | Critical Review by Jean M. White

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Dick Francis.
This section contains 682 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jean M. White

Critical Review by Jean M. White

SOURCE: "Dick Francis: Back in Winning Form," The Washington Post Book World, November 19, 1989, p. 10.

In the following review, White asserts that Francis's Straight represents a return to the winner's circle for Francis after a string of disappointing novels.

If you read the first paragraph of Straight, the latest Dick Francis thriller, I'm willing to wager, whatever the odds, you will sprint to the finish line.

Who can resist this lead-on:

"I inherited my brother's life. Inherited his desk, his business, his gadgets, his enemies, his horses, and his mistress. I inherited my brother's life, and it nearly killed me."

Derek Franklin, one of the more engaging narrator-heroes in the Franciscan canon of 28 thrillers, is hobbling around on a broken ankle after a steeplechase fall when he receives word that Greville, his older brother, is in the hospital on life-support systems after being injured by falling scaffolding at a construction site.

In the impersonal intensive-care room with a bank of screens showing Greville's brain waves and heartbeats, Derek realizes how little he has shared with Greville (19 years his senior) and wishes that they had been closer.

To Derek's surprise, he is the only beneficiary—inheriting his brother's gem-importing business, two horses (and mistress, whom he must remind later, "I'm not Greville"). And Derek and the reader get to know the dead Greville as he searches through his brother's diary, appointment calendar and computer notations.

Greville loved gadgets, and his collection included a remote car spotter (it sounds the horn and blinks the lights), a sound-enhancer for eavesdropping, spy juice to read letters through envelopes doctored to become transparent, a Geiger counter and secret computer files.

There is one riddle after another. Where did Greville hide $1.5 million in diamonds bought secretly? Why does an alarm go off at precisely 4:20 p.m. each day in the office? What does the scribbled notion "Koningen Beatrix" stand for? Who is ransacking Greville's home and office? Why is the trainer of Greville's two horses so hostile? Who ambushed the car of an American couple (among the fascinating supporting characters) in which Derek was riding?

All is answered satisfactorily as Francis paces the narrative to a smashing finish. The book's title, Straight, resonates with meaning. In Britain, the homestretch is called the finishing straight. And Greville had written in his notes that "the crooked despise the straight."

With Straight, Francis is back in top form after some rather flat, overbloated recent performances where he succumbed to "novel" writing rather than sticking to the limits of the genre of which he is master. Last year's The Edge, saved only by Francis's gift for narration, was an overweight variation on the old theme of murder-on-train and sometimes seemed as long as its trans-continental trip across Canada.

This time Francis is back on his turf. The plot is inventive and beautifully constructed to bring together all the threads of the sub-plots at the end. The characters are real and individual. There are poignant, touching moments, such as Derek's realizing the missed opportunities with the brother who followed his steeplechase rides on television and jotted down "Derek won it!" in his diary.

As is all Francis novels, the racing background, although subsidiary in Straight, is alive with the sounds and smells and characters at the track and stables. Should a horse be gelded? And why would a kitchen-variety baster be found near the stables?

But it's the world of gems and gadgets that proves most fascinating in Straight. Francis is a tireless researcher when he ventures into a new field. Derek's brother ran an import business dealing with semi-precious gems, and we learn how gamma radiation can improve the color of stones and what the formula CZ=C×l.7 signifies.

It seems that all of the Francis heroes have to suffer pain in exploding violence that sometimes borders on the gratuitous. Derek, an easy mark on his crutches, is mugged and bashed, then spends harrowing moments trapped in a car as rescuers attempt to free him before the gas tank catches fire. It's tough to be a Francis hero. But Francis is back in the winner's circle aboard Straight.

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This section contains 682 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jean M. White
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