Books I Love: Odds Against by Dick Francis
In something of a departure from my normal fare – that being Fantasy and Science Fiction – today’s “Books I Love” goes into the world of mystery. But not just any mystery – Dick Francis writes mysterious set against the backdrop of English horse racing. I know… how does someone who loves fantasy and sci-fi find themselves immersed in something that borders on a cozy mystery? It’s all about the protagonists (well, and the good writing).
Dick Francis (a former steeplechase jockey himself) writes stories about jockeys and former jockeys (among others) who manage to get themselves embroiled in all kinds of trouble. But every one of his protagonists is a stoic underdog who takes their lumps and generally (being of somewhat small stature) has to rely on keen intellect and cunning planning over brute force to win the day. Their perseverance in the face of adversity makes them admirable; their determination to do just that despite their very real and justified fears makes them compelling.
Odds Against introduces Sid Halley, steeplechase jockey turned private detective and throws him into the seedy dealings of racetrack politics. The mystery revolves around the string of bad-luck happening to Seabury Racecourse and uncovering the why, and while this is the central focus of the plot, what I love about this book is the development of the main character. Halley goes from someone who has lost everything (career, marriage, motivation) to someone who finds new purpose and meaning in life. It’s a weird parallel to a coming of age story in many ways, or maybe a “journey of self-discovery” would be a better way to phrase it. Whatever it is, Francis captures the emotions of someone who has lost it all and is just going through the motions awakening to realize that life is still there waiting for him if he just engages in it.
You don’t have to be a fan of horses or racing to fall in love with Dick Francis. If you enjoy mystery at all, anything by Francis is worth a read.