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My dad has always been quite a fan of Dick Francis' horse-racing related thriller/murder mysteries, I've just started trying to get into them and whilst I find them fairly easy to get through, I can't help but feel that I've started with a couple of duds. Second Wind was a rather disappointing book but Shattered was definitely better, like Second Wind, it started off a little slowly and I have to say that I didn't take a lot of the first chapter in.
Fortunately it seems like I didn't miss too much because once the story picked up, I still knew what was going on. This book is less far-fetched than Second Wind and I found myself recognising the characters described in the book.
The storyline involves a rather humble glass-blower trying to regain ownership of a video that was given to him by a jockey friend of his, he's not the only person looking for it though and due to the violent nature of some of the people seeking the tape, he gets himself deeper into the mire.
Much like Second Wind, Shattered has a feeble love story which would have probably been better left out but towards the later chapters, I think Dick did a good job of drawing out the suspense, I found myself a little addicted to the book and despite being absolutely knackered in the evenings, found myself pawing through the pages to find out the identity of the 4th masked man who I have to admit came as quite a surprise.
Shattered isn't a brilliant book but it's an improvement on Second Wind and will ensure that I keep my eyes peeled for some more Dick Francis novels next time I'm book hunting.
I don’t like horses very much, but I’ve always enjoyed reading Dick Francis’ thrillers set in the world of horse racing. My aversion to horses is a horse’s fault; once I wanted to take a photo of a grazing horse which was tied to a pole on a meadow. I advanced from the front, introduced myself and asked for permission. The horse looked at me in a way which I interpreted as consent, but when I raised my camera, the beast bit me in the arm. No horsing around with that one! Luckily it was a cold day and I had several layers of clothes on, so I got away with a bruise. Why have I enjoyed reading about horses and horse races and everything related to horses nevertheless? Dick Francis knows what he’s writing about, he was a top jockey as a young man and started writing after an accident which ended his career. Think of prizes a thriller writer can be awarded, he’s got them all. The most respectable is the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger for his outstanding contribution to the crime genre, he was made a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master for a lifetime’s achievement, and in 2000 he received a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Dick Francis hasn’t created a private eye who we accompany through a life of sleuthing, he’s used one protagonist more than once, but in general he creates a new one in each book. He’s found his own interpretation of the Dorian Grey theme: In Oscar Wilde’s novel Dorian Grey is portrayed as a young man and while he’s committing the most outrageous sins leading a life of wild excesses, he remains young and beautiful, only his portrait ages. The RL Dick Francis ages (he celebrated his 81st birthday on October 31st), but his fictional characters are always young men in their early thirties, attractive, sportive, energetic. In his early thrillers the crimes develop out of the usual motives such as g
reed, jealousy, envy, betrayal, cheating , all in connection with the horse racing business. Of course, sometimes the description of a, say, steeplechase is beyond the layperson’s horizon, however, crime and horse racing or horse racing and crime are so well mixed, that one doesn’t mind. I know that horse lovers read Dick Francis’ books for the horsey parts and endure the crime scenes, so to speak, and thriller fans follow the crime, its entanglement and dénouement and skim through the horse-speak. So everybody who likes the genre ’cosy thriller’ can be happy (this being the opposite of ‘tough stuff’ of the noir kind). Dick Francis uses the first person narrative, thus drawing the readers into the action. The young men who somehow or other get involved into a crime don’t always belong to the world of horses, they may be outsiders who just help a jockey friend. In case the author decides to give them a job which has nothing to do with horses he researches whichever field he wants to use well and it can happen that while reading a thriller of his you also learn something about a part of life you didn’t know anything about before. Well, this was the case up to the latest book SHATTERED. Amazon.com tells me that “After 41 novels, most writers run out of energy before the final gallop. But Dick Francis’s (Mind the s after the apostrophe, they haven’t read alki’s op ‘How To Use Apostrophes’, shame!) latest thriller is as good as his earliest.“ I beg to disagree, I can’t help feeling that Dick Francis has shot his bolt and is now a victim of his own success. Whatever there’s to say about horse racing has been said, whichever criminal activities can be connected with the world of horse breeding and racings have been described. In SHATTERED he moves so far away from everything equine that his horsey friends will be deeply disappointed. Thi
s time the thirtysomething chappie is a glass-blower, why not, but I’ve got the feeling that DF fell in love with this craft, so detailed are his descriptions. Having read the last page, I had the feeling I could blow a glass vase myself. Too much is too much! I bought a thriller, didn’t I? Now what about that component? The first sentence is promising: ‘Four of us drove together to Cheltenham races on the day that Martin Stukely died there from a fall in a steeple-chase’. Reading it I thought to myself, “Now look at that old hand, he knows how to create tension and grip his readers!” Can you imagine my surprise when I learnt that the above mentioned jockey died a natural death, that not even for one second foul play is suspected?! His death is only used to set the action proper in motion. Before his accidental death the jockey planned to give his glass-blower friend a videotape for safe keeping, but somehow this tape never arrives at its destination. Nevertheless a group of thugs under the leadership of a frightening lady sets out to recapture it from him. Later a second videotape disappears, a lot of house breaking and bashing ensues and the glass-blower decides to go and look into the matter himself as he doesn’t know what the whole hullabaloo is about and the police don‘t take the case seriously. A love story is entwined as well, which is OK, the human touch is something DF has always been good at, and, as I’ve already pointed out, glass-blowing in abundance. But there’s no murder case, no stiff (I like this American expression), no major crime. The theft of videotapes, even if one of them contains top secrets, I ask you! I’ve read tons of books in my life, all kinds of, but thrillers are the book category I’ve read most of. Again, all kinds of, tough ones and cosy ones. Reading the latter is like having (fluffy?!) slippers on, curling on the sofa with a drink. D
ame Aggie can give me this feeling and up to now Dick Francis has done as well. A cosy thriller can be thrilling, too! Perhaps I should have taken the dedication to The Queen Mother in celebration of her 100th birthday as a warning? How much thrill can an old lady of that age take? And then the language! What do you make of the following sentence: “Eddie, to my disparaging ear, had plucked up half a bottle of Dutch courage before stretching out his hand to the phone, and wouldn’t remain long in a state of grace owing to his distance from the fact that he could more easily have got stand-ins to free him to go to that particular funeral than if it was for his own grandmother.” ??? I can’t understand it, so I turned to Jill for help. She assured me that it wasn’t me who’s losing their grip of the English language! I feel cheated, I want my money back! I paid 21 DM which is 1 pound more than the UK price, because I bought the book in a German bookshop. I won’t say that this is the last DF thriller I’ve bought. After recovering from being SHATTERED I might look out for the early ones which I haven’t read yet, but I’ll certainly not buy any other books DF is going to write in future. If he asked me what to do, which he won’t do unfortunately, I’d say, “Stop writing and save your reputation.” How many stars? Two and a half, but I’m going to click on three for old times’ sake.
When jockey Martin Stukely dies after falling in a steeplechase at Cheltenham races, he accidentally embroils his friend Gerard Logan in a perilous search for a stolen video tape. Logan, half artist, half artisan, is a glass blower on the verge of widespread acclaim for the originality and ingenuity of his work.