Picks and Pans Review: Longshot
Those of you who have never had the pleasure of reading a Dick Francis book are to be envied. What treats await you. But take some advice from one who knows: Don't rush out and buy all 29 of his novels at once, for you might be inclined to devour them one right after another, like bonbons. If you must purchase them in bulk, turn them over to a loved one to hide with instructions to parcel them out sparingly.
For those lucky enough to be delving into Francis for the first time, Longshot is a good place to start. Above-average Francis, it is a diverting whodunit full of small treasures. The story begins at a trot and soon settles into an easy, graceful canter, saving a headlong gallop for the final 30 pages or so. Francis's narrator is John Kendall, a young writer of survival guides who longs to be a novelist. To pay the rent, Kendall accepts a job writing the biography of a racehorse trainer named Tremayne Vickers. The Vickers clan has gotten itself into all sorts of trouble, and Kendall is thrust into the fray, feeling, he says, "as if I'd stepped into a play that was already in progress and been given a walk-on part in the action."
The action in question is pretty tame, although one knows it's just a matter of time before Kendall will have to put his survival training to use. In the meantime it is fun to be swept along by Francis's effortless prose, marveling at things like his spot-on characterization of a 15-year-old boy teetering on the edge of manhood or his description of a bitingly cold morning on horseback on the Berkshire Downs.
Reading a Francis novel is an ephemeral experience. In memory, it is hard to distinguish one book from another, other than to say, "Oh, yes, Reflex was the one about photography." So it is inevitable that a year from now the details of Long-shot will have receded a bit. But the warm glow will remain. Besides, a year from now, it won't matter; there'll be a new Dick Francis to enjoy. (Putnam, $19.95)
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