Another cracking thriller by Dick Francis.
I'm currently writing a series of novels about a record collector turned detective. Someone asked me how many stories there can be concerning mystery, murder and mayhem revolving (ahem) around records?
My reply was, Dick Francis managed about three dozen concerning the world of jockeys and horse racing.
But I didn't realise how damned good they were.
Nerve concerns a jockey, Rob Finn who is just starting to build a reputation when that reputation is cruelly and deliberately sabotaged.
It is a riveting story of his attempts to salvage his career -- and gain retribution against his tormentor (Finn describes his plan of revenge to his cousin: "I told her. It took some time. She shivered. 'He didn't know what he was up against when he picked on you'.")
And Francis can really write. His characters and background detail are beautiful.
Finn is the only non-musical member of a family of professional musicians. This is from a description of their sitting room: "A cello and a music stand rested side by side like lovers along the length of the sofa."
Elsewhere he describes a man struggling to lead a powerful, impatient horse "hanging on to his leading rein like a small child on a large kite."
There are many other lovely concise bits of scene setting. He talks about "the freezing dawn" and "a damp raw January afternoon". And immediately the reader is there.
Nerve was written in 1964 and there is an interesting air of Cold War terror shimmering subtly in the background.
Amazingly, it was only his second novel.
Many thanks to my blog reader Frank Fair for pointing out that Stanley Kubrick was also a Dick Francis fan (pity he never adapted one of the novels) while another one was script writing guru Syd Fields, who praised Francis' depiction of film making.
Another reader Mark recommends Smokescreen so I'm delighted to say I've now obtained a copy of that, and I'm reading it next. Many thanks.
(Also, I'm hypnotised by this review of 1965's Odds Against, from The Sun: "a spot of kinkiness in the delectable shape of a sado-masochistic femme fatale.")
I love Francis' terse evocative titles, by the way.
(Image credits: Once again the striking Colin Thomas photo cover is from Jan-Willem Hubbers excellent and useful website, a terrific Dick Francis resource. The great first edition cover is from Wikipedia.
The Penguin edition with the stylish graphic design by Cato is from The Woman in the Wood's photostream on Flicker. The grey painted cover is by Greg Montgomery and the artist's website is here. The yellow Pan cover is from LeLivre.com via Antiqbook. This is the copy I read and I don't recommend it because the cover painting gives too much of the plot away, particularly the back cover. Do they think people read books without turning them over?)