SILKS by Dick Francis

It’s always difficult when someone you idolize starts showing a weakness, from age or whatever. Dick Francis has been writing mystery novels since before I was born. His first, Dead Cert, was published in 1962 and he put out a new one every year until 2000 when, after the death of his wife, he stopped writing publishing books until 2006. His wife, Mary, always helped with his research and, in one writer’s opinion, was actually the the real voice behind his books. Now he writes with his son Felix.
While some may argue that his books all follow the same pattern, are formulaic even, for me it never mattered. There would always be a protagonist for me to fall for, who might or might not be looking for trouble but it would find him anyway, and during the course of the story, he would meet and fall for a girl, and they would “ride off into the sunset together” by the end of the book. Through his books, I have developed a vicarious love of horse racing, as all his books revolve around the race track in one form or another.
For me, one of the best parts of Dick Francis’ novels are the auxiliary characters – the ones that linger on the edge of the story but make a huge impact in their short time with you. The mother from The Edge and Himself from To The Hilt are two that jump unbidden to memory. You may have to look up the title of the books, but that kind of character stays with you always.
Dick Francis’ American publishers almost always release his books in late September/early October every year, just in time for my birthday. I look forward to receiving the latest novel and it very often is the first present I’m given. There have been years when, if my birthday didn’t fall on a weekend, I took the day and just disappeared with my new book. My family would laugh at me but it just got the book into their hands that much faster:) This is one of the books that we pass around to just about everyone in the family.
This year was no exception. The newest book, Silks, was my first gift and I took it to work fully planning to immerse myself on my lunch hour. Unbeknownst to me, the evil forces that are my co-workers were creating an environment that allowed me barely 2 minutes of free time at a stretch (and none of it was birthday related, I might add). Not to worry – it just prolonged the excitement a little, making it all that much sweeter when I could dive in, right? Helen and Amanda this is where you stop reading until you finish the book.

Unfortunately, no, not this time as I was really disappointed in the book. The silks in the title refer to both the silk gown worn by the barristers in the English court of law and the racing colors worn by jockeys. Maybe it bothered me because the American court system is very similar to that of the English, but by the second instruction on how the court works, I was getting irritated. I know this already – don’t waste time explaining it yet again. Francis‘ usually easy-going writing style seemed forced and choppy and his characters were not up to par. There is one who has all the earmarks of being that special person in the book that stays with you long after you’re finished turning the pages, and that, in one of Francis‘ earlier novels, would be one of the most memorable, yet here he’s overlooked, mentioned barely more than in passing.
I can accept those quibbles I have with the book. After all, Dick Francis is 88 years old and, if you believe the critics, has lost at the least his partner in writing, if not more. (I mean it Helen and Amanda, STOP READING!) The biggest problem I have with Silks is one of the final acts by the protagonist. A piece of, to me at least, completely gratuitous violence that I don’t think fits the makeup of the character in this book, or any of Francis’ personae throughout his long career. It really pissed me off last night when I got to the end. The reason I keep coming back his books is that his characters all find the inner strength to overcome the evil they are thrust into and fight to bring about justice, not sink to the villain’s level of inhumanity. It’s one of the traits that makes me really care about them. I hate it when movies change a character to fit what they think the target audience would want to see (The Firm, anyone?), and this is so much worse.
I’m going back the goblin uprising in Crydee (Riftwar saga) where, for now at least, I know who the good guys are.

One Response to “SILKS by Dick Francis”

  1. Helen/Dudley Says:

    Thanks for the alert, I was reading very carefully to see if I could tell if you were going to spoil it for me.

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