Picks and Pans Review: Decider

updated 01/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Dick Francis

Dick Francis is a leading practitioner of the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of writing. His predictable-yet-reliable novels have several common threads: They always involve horse racing, they all are written in the first person, the narrator is a man, usually single, and the writing is effortless and succinct.

Francis makes only minor adjustments to his winning formula in his 32nd novel. In a nod to the '90s, 35-year-old Lee Morris is married and the caring father of six sons. An architect, Morris happens to hold a few shares in a racetrack that is largely owned by the belligerent Stratton clan. As Morris is drawn into the family infighting over the track's future, he places himself and, eventually, his children in grave danger.

Decider doesn't exactly burst out of the starling gate. Pausing for prosaic glimpses into family life, the novel gains momentum only gradually. But champion jockey that he was and canny author that he is, Francis knows just the right moment to smartly apply the crop and punch his story into high gear. A hint of romance, a startling revelation and a fiery finish leave the reader eager for the next Francis fix.

As always, the author's lifelong passion surfaces in eloquent observations on equine beings. "I watched the way their muscles moved under the groomed coats," writes Francis. "No architect anywhere could have designed anything as functional, economical, supremely proportioned.... Imagine the world without them." No harder than imagining the world without Dick Francis. (Putnam, $22.95)

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