Sunday 31 March 2013

Dick Francis: Enquiry

Kingsley Amis always loved the thrillers of Dick Francis.

Apart from being a terrific writer himself, Amis was no snob. He didn't hesitate to sing the praises of thriller writers like Peter O'Donnell, for example — creator of Modesty Blaise.

Given my admiration for Amis, and O'Donnell, it's amazing how long it's taken me to get around to Dick Francis.

But I've just read my first novel by him.

Enquiry tells the story of a jockey (all of Francis' books were about jockeys and horse racing) called Kelly Hughes who has been 'warned off'.

This is like a doctor being struck off. It means he can't ride, or even visit a stable. He has been convicted of cheating in a race. His career is over.

Of course, Hughes is innocent and sets out to clear his name.

It's an impressive, compelling thriller. The first thing that struck me was how deftly Dick Francis got me emotionally involved. By the time he'd finished recounting the unfair and one-sided enquiry where his hero is framed, I was fuming with rage.

He's also extremely adroit at deploying suspense and sudden bursts of violence. 

Other striking features are his beautiful, succinct descriptions. There's a well handled love interest in the book — Roberta Cranfield. She instantly seduced me with her 'petulant mouth'. Some of Francis' finest prose is reserved for describing her. I was delighted by her sweater which was the colour of a 'stagnant pond'.

Excellent and insightful characterisation, gripping plot, terse and amusing dialogue and a deceptively simple prose style. Dick Francis is obviously a master.

And the best part is, there are over 30 more of his books to read. 


(Picture credits: the bold and striking bondage mask cover is by Colin Thomas. I got the image from an excellent Dick Francis website by Jan-Willem Hubbers, whose knowledge of photography informs his appreciation of the Colin Thomas covers for Dick Francis. The stylish green cover with the retro painting is by Greg Montgomery. The artist's website is here. The film-strip cover has been taken from Good Reads.)


  1. Dead Cert is a superb rattlingly good read

  2. Add Stanley Kubrick and Syd Field to the list of Dick Francis admirers.
    I remember reading Syd Field's autobiography where Kubrick recommends a particular Dick Francis novel for the way it mixed reality and the fantasy of filmmaking so seamlessly.

    I think the novel itself was Smokescreen but I can't be sure