Re-reads, but it's been so long since I read High Stakes and Nerve that all I really remembered was that I didn't think they were in the top tier of Francis's books. Dick Francis is perfect for when you really want to read about someone having a worse day than you are. I may have bronchitis, but at least I'm not suicidally depressed/fighting off an axe-wielding criminal while I have a broken wrist/blindfolded, chained, and soaked in freezing water.

Blood Sport is the most interesting of the three. The plot isn't as well-tuned as his norm, with an unusual amount of low-stakes wandering around looking for clues, but the hero makes it memorable.

Gene is a former James Bond-type secret agent turned private eye (unusually for Francis - his heroes tend not to be professional hero types) suffering from long-term, severe depression. He spends a lot of the book trying to convince himself not to commit suicide. Treatment is never mentioned, and he seems to think it doesn't exist - at one point he muses that some day depression will be recognized as a disease, and babies will be inoculated against it. Originally published in 1967, when there most certainly were treatments for depression. However, to this day many depressed people never seek treatment, so I believe that Gene wouldn't.

In the first and best action set-piece, Gene's boss invites him on a boating trip, where Gene meets the boss's sweet 17-year-old daughter and saves someone's life in what appears to be, but of course is not, a boating accident. The boss gives him a job - hunting down a missing race horse in America - with the clear intent of keeping him too busy to off himself. There's a semi-romance with the teen daughter of the "I'll wait till you're 21" type, of which the best thing I can say is that it's less squicky than usual. There's a much better non-romance subplot involving a woman Gene's age who seems to be a standard unstable, alcoholic sexpot, but who is then given actual depth and a very satisfying storyline.

The pieces of this book don't fit together as well as Francis learned to do later. Gene has a helper who needed better characterization for his storyline to really work, and the final action climax isn't that climactic. But the depiction of depression is very realistic, and it's a good example of how to write a depressed hero without making the book itself depressing to read.

Nerve has an excellent A-plot, in which Rob Finn, a struggling jockey from a family of musicians, is the target of a plot to undermine his career. This book is impossible to put down starting from the first paragraph, in which a jockey shoots himself in front of Rob.

The B-plot, in which Rob tries to court his true love who won't marry him because they're cousins, is less successful. Francis is a bit hit-or-miss with romance. Some of his romances are fantastic. This one never quite worked for me - Joanna's "totally cousins" objection seemed a bit ridiculous and lampshading it didn't help. I never quite bought their relationship.

But the slow disintegration of Rob's career is nailbitingly readable, even though there's no physical jeopardy until about halfway through. The showpiece action sequence, in which Rob is kidnapped, blindfolded and chained, drenched in water on a freezing night, and must free himself and then race the next day, is brilliantly done. Nice comfort via hot soup afterward, too.

I had totally forgotten High Stakes before I re-read it and I can see why. Even now, it is fading from my memory. A toy inventor gets mixed up in some mystery involving racing and... um... wow, I honestly cannot remember more and I read this 48 hours ago. The romance is with a woman whose sole characterization is that she's American. The only parts I remember are the toys, which are cool, and an action sequence in the toy workshop.
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra

I love Dick Francis novels for his quietly competent (and stoically suffering!) heroes. I just reread To The Hilt, which has manful suffering under torture as well as a slightly slashy cross dressing private eye. And I don't think I've read Blood Sport, so thanks for the pointer.

Hope you're feeling better! If you're still looking for literature of consolation, Alex51324 at AO3 has a Sentinel/Guide series with lots of suffering, although I'm particularly fond of her Kas and Angel series - Angel is the Cuban American Sentinel who has to undergo army training despite being a (rather endearing) wimp who, Kas is the Guide who has done ranger training to prove he isn't as feeble as Guides are supposed to be, and the whole thing has lots of boot camp training neepery.

From: [identity profile]

I've got to say, as a kid/teenager/young adult in the 70's and then 80's, my impression was that anti-depressants were ONLY if you'd attempted suicide and then they didn't work all that well. Like, pre-Prozac I think a lot of even pretty seriously depressed people weren't casually taking them, it was a HUGE shift.

I can totally believe Random Straight White Guy in the 60's wouldn't see his depression as a health issue to be treated and might even dream of a day where that was possible!

From: [identity profile]

Yeah, I totally believe that too. I think you pretty much only got anti-depressants if you landed in the hospital after a suicide attempt. And I don't think talk therapy was something people in Gene's social circles would have done.

Interestingly enough, in Nerve the hero gets so depressed that he speaks to a psychiatrist who's a friend of the family (and who is helpful). However, Rob came from an upperclass intelligentsia background.

From: [identity profile]

Both my father and I were given anti-depressants in the mid-80s, pre-Prozac, without being suicidal. (Him for depression, me for bad OCD, which the specific antidepressant I was given is still the main drug treatment for.)

From: [identity profile]

I think that was less common in the 60s, when the novel was written. Though I could be wrong! Or was 80s a typo?

ETA: Sorry, misread the comment I was replying to above as being about the 60s too. And I can't think how, because I know M Pig is not that old!
Edited Date: 2014-07-11 11:25 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile]

Ooh, now - maybe the time has come around for my own big Dick Francis reread? I have all the reservations you cite, and more besides - but where he's good, he's very very good. Also, his wife Mary was a Brenchley, which made him some kind of a cousin of mine. I used to call him Cousin Dick.

Oh, and if you haven't read the "collaborations" wih his son Felix? Keep it that way.

From: [identity profile]

Yes! Please read and report. I am in the middle of re-reading Bonecrack now. That's the one with the fabulous premise of "Employ my son as a jockey or I destroy your stable."

I have deliberately not read the Felix books.

From: [identity profile]

I read one. Dick Francis is a spirited stallion; Felix is a pony walking in a circle giving rides to children.

From: [identity profile]

Read these three years ago. I remember really enjoying Nerve and Blood Sport, and like you can't remember a thing about High Stakes. Must do a Francis reread sooner or later.

Have you read any of the Felix Francis continuations? I stopped reading them when I started getting a strong feeling of serious mother-hating issues.

From: [identity profile]

I think it's likely that Francis suffered from depression himself - he spoke of wanting to drown himself in the Serpentine after being dismissed from his job as a jockey to the Queen Mother. I wonder whether he was unaware of the treatments available in the 1960s, or had tried and failed to access any effective ones?

From: [identity profile]

I love Dick Francis novels, and I love his hero (different names, different professions, all the same competent man).

From: [identity profile]

Thanks for the recommendations for Dick Francis. I haven't yet laid hands on Bonecrack but I did pick up Nerve and devour it last night.

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