oracne - Victoria Janssen (oracne) wrote,
oracne - Victoria Janssen
oracne

Dick Francis in general; ENQUIRY; & FOR KICKS

Two Dick Francis novels from the early to mid-1960s.

Dick Francis was a well-known jockey before he became a writer of suspense novels. I actually know little about him beyond that, other than I remember reading somewhere that he said his wife did a lot of research to help out with the books. I began reading his work in about 1983. All of his books tie into horses and/or racing in some way, though some only peripherally. All feature a youngish man as first-person narrator and he usually, though not always, has an interesting area of expertise, and it is often that expertise which ends up drawing him into the Plot Events. The narrator may not know or appreciate his own special skills and strengths, but he will after they've been tested to the limits in the course of the novel. That testing is, I think, one of the key reasons Francis' novels are so popular. They can be real nailbiters.

There is also generally a Girl, and often the narrator ends up with her if they're not already an item, though again not always. The Girl may be beautiful and if she's going to end up with the hero, she's usually intelligent, practical, and down-to-earth. It's notable that often there is an older woman (older than the narrator) involved in the plot as well, often serving as confidante or source of strength. That's another thing I like about these books; the hero will, when he can, accept help from others.

Enquiry was published in 1961, and For Kicks in 1965. I never noticed that before my recent rereading--I didn't know when I first read Enquiry that it was already twenty years old, and wasn't old enough to realize that some of the social assumptions the characters make were no longer current.

I now can't help but think of these two novels together, as they share themes of classism and the social obstacles facing the self-made man, very possibly something Francis had encountered many times in his life. Having the narrator be an underdog also generates instant sympathy for him, at least from me.

In Enquiry, Kelly Hughes is the son of a farmer and a talented jockey, but before embarking on his career, he attended the London School of Economics on scholarship, training to be a civil servant. He finds it prudent not to noise his education about in the racing world, but reveals it when needed to try and extract himself from a frame-up that has lost him his racing license. Not once but twice in the novel, someone who does not know him comes to his apartment, and the tasteful decoration gives away that he is out of the ordinary among jockeys--if I'd read that in a book written in the 1990s, I would probably find it a bit offensive, but in 1961 such events are considerably more realistic. And I find it truly interesting that home decorating is supposed to be so indicative of class.

Kelly's a widower, I think the only one in the Francis books, other than the hero of Proof; however, Kelly has been alone longer, and meets someone new in the course of the novel.

For Kicks stars Daniel Roke, the son of a barrister, who owns a prosperous stud farm in Australia but looks "like a gypsy." He's given his life, since his parents died when he was eighteen, to raising his two younger sisters and younger brother, and supporting them as well. He feels trapped by this and gladly takes on a dangerous undercover assignment in England as a stablehand in a racing stable, where he is to uncover an operation that dopes horses to win, though the type of dope cannot be detected. This time it isn't home decoration that makes the man, but personal appearance. He grows sideburns and wears chain store clothing and "horrible" shoes with pointed toes and a leather jacket, and somehow this makes him very disreputable. In the end, when he goes to a barber to be shaved and have a haircut, even the barber notices the vast difference and immediately begins to treat him differently.

For Kicks is fun in that Daniel encounters two women, sisters, one of whom tries to seduce him and the other who is nice to him but also aware of their different classes; he ends up with neither one, choosing a new career instead. That's another thing I like about Francis novels. They're not as formulaic as they might appear at first glance.

Enough for now!

Tags: books, francis, mystery
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