Winter Sunlight

Odds Against (Dick Francis)

Posting, posting ... You know, I still haven't given up on answering the December meme questions! (This is, however, EXACTLY why I always add a caveat that I may not get around to it.) One of the things I've been doing this year is severely cutting back on my Internet time ... which is, to my surprise, has turned out to be both a) easier, and b) more beneficial than I thought it was going to be. I've been super productive this month! On the other hand, I do want to get back into posting more.

What I have been doing is reading a lot. In lieu of Internet or TV, my main form of recreation this year has been reading, and I've probably read more books so far this year than in the entire previous year, which is a surprisingly nice feeling. I used to be a book-a-day bibliophile, but over the last few years, I've kind of drifted away; I've ended up doing other things (wasting time on Tumblr, say, or mainlining whole seasons of TV shows) as my "turn off my brain and let my mental wheels spin" activity. Not that I stopped reading (my idea of reading "not much" is probably some people's idea of reading a lot) but it wasn't something I did all the time. Truth be told, most of my fiction reading was fanfic the last couple of years.

But this year I've been reading a bunch, in part because I need more recreational activities that involve getting away from the computer (and also, I'm trying to go to bed earlier, so shutting down the computer and taking a book to bed is one way of achieving that). The most recent thing on the "done read" pile is one that [personal profile] rachelmanija recommended -- Odds Against, the first of Dick Francis's Sid Halley books -- and I thoroughly loved it. I vaguely recall reading several of Francis's novels back when I was a teenager, but I was a little disconcerted to realize that I'd never actually caught on that he's British. Within the first few pages of this book I got one of those slightly unnerving perspective shifts when you realize that you've been remembering something wrong all those years, because I had somehow come away from my teen years with the idea that his books were mostly set in US horse racing and they're ... really obviously not.

Anyway, I enjoyed it a lot. I love the action/suspense/mystery genres in general, but a lot of the older generation(s) of genre fiction come with a sort of background level of misogyny that is distracting -- not necessarily a dealbreaker, but frustrating in an otherwise well-written book -- so I was pleasantly surprised to find that was refreshingly absent here, at least to my eyes. Also, I liked the book's handling of disability and just really liked the characters, generally. (Okay, the book does have a very textual S&M EQUALS EVIL thematic element which is kind of annoying. But otherwise it was a whole lot more ... well ... I dunno what I'm going for here -- enlightened? Emotionally deeper? Something, anyway, that I don't generally expect from 1960s thrillers.)

I vaguely remember that the rec came with some kind of caveat about the rest of the series, but unfortunately I can't remember now if it was "the rest of the books are not that great, so don't get your hopes up" or "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T READ THE REST OF THE SERIES". However, the library has several more of them, so I think I might be making a trip over there soon.

One aspect of the book that turned out to be an unexpected delight is the entire subplot involving Zanna Martin, a physically disfigured secretary Sid initially approaches to get information about the bad guy; subsequently the two of them make a mutual pact to stop hiding their disabilities -- her face, his hand. I was ENTIRELY expecting her to die and was very pleasantly surprised she, instead, walked away confidently at the end. I wouldn't have minded seeing her become a series love interest, but was also just as happy that ultimately it wasn't about sex or romance, but just a sort of mutual friendship and healing. And as much as I would've liked her as a recurring love interest, I liked just as much that she didn't end up falling for Sid simply because he was the first man who saw past her damaged face and the defenses she'd built up around it.

Also ... Charles. Charles and Sid. I suppose it is no surprise to anyone that odd-couple friendships are my jam, especially ones that involve a sort of smartest-person-in-the-room mutual camaraderie; basically, I love it when fictional smart people recognize and appreciate other smart people, all the more so if it's a little unexpected. I was sad he disappeared from most of the last half of the book (and did I miss something, or did the missing meteor rock and in fact the entire quartz-collecting subplot turn out to have no bearing on the main plot whatsoever?), but I hope he's in the other ones.

This entry is also posted at http://sholio.dreamwidth.org/998543.html with comment count unavailable comments.
Tags:
I enjoy reading Dick Francis - my aunt is a fan of the author and I liberally raided her library over the years. The books are a little dated but make a fun read.
I'll definitely be reading more of his! It's been ages and I don't remember any of them.
Boy I haven't read a Dick Francis in eons. Was this one of his or one of his son's writing in his place?
oh cool. I probably read it but I read most of those in high school so who knows what I'd remember. In the 80s they had a series of them on PBS's Mystery!
Glad that you're reading more, though I have found that taking a book to bed can sometimes not be so good for getting to sleep earlier! Especially if hubby is late to bed, or is staying at his mum's (one night a week atm). If he's not around to stop me reading at a reasonable time and it's a Very Good Cannot Put Down Book, well, yes. You can see the problem *points to icon*. It's much better when he's around and coming to bed at a reasonable time!!
I really really like Dick Francis! He's got a way of writing such level-headed, competent protagonists, and you're right, a lot of his writing is refreshingly . . . liberal? Enlightened? for the times.

I remember being pretty fond of both Odd's Against and the sequel - which Charles is definitely in - (I think it's Whip Hand?), but not really liking the third or fourth Sid Halley books. But there are many many other books of his I love -- particularly The Edge, Rat Race, and To the Hilt, which may be my favorite.

His son took over the writing when Dick Francis was in poor health, and continued after his death, but I just never could get into those cowritten books. They just don't have the same charm.
Delighted to hear the next one's pretty good (and has more Charles!). And the library definitely has that one. Yeah, I know I read a bunch of these in my teens, but I don't remember anything specific about them at all (except at least one had a horse on the cover, but boy does THAT not narrow it down ...).
I LOVE Sid Halley and almost all of the Dick Francis books. I agree with snarkydame above that Whip Hand is also very good and that the next couple Sid Halley's are not quite as good. But that was sort of the thing with ALL of Dick Francis' books. The earlier ones are the best--such as Nerve, Knockdown, Dead Cert, and the early Sid Halley. Then the following 6-10 books were mostly still very good, and then he went through a period where they were still not bad books, but certainly never up to the level of the earlier ones.

Really, I think it happens to a lot of authors. Their first ideas are their best and then they run out of steam a little bit. I still bought and read them all, but was always a bit disappointed. Then after another 6 or 10 books, he got better again. Looking at what the history says about his son starting to help him with "research" etc after Dick's wife died, I actually think the books seemed to get better just about the time it would have been when Felix started doing that.

Some people complain that the new books written only by Felix aren't very good, but I think they're just as good as Dick Francis' second wave as noted above. And the last Sid Halley book was excellent, EXCEPT for the wife who was just a whiny bitch, I'm sorry to say. Sigh.

As for misogyny, hm, well no outright stuff, but there are certainly some books where the women aren't as smart or as well thought of as in Odds Against. More just the "good old boy" stuff of 40 years ago. I was able to write most of it off as a generational thing.

I hope you continue reading and enjoying the books, since most of them are well worth it.
Really, I think it happens to a lot of authors. Their first ideas are their best and then they run out of steam a little bit. I still bought and read them all, but was always a bit disappointed.

Ha, yeah, I've run into that with several authors too. Well, there's sort of a bell curve, where the first few books they're just learning their craft, and then they get good, and then they all start to feel repetitive after awhile. (Though I tend to have that problem with any author whose books I read a bunch of in a row -- most people do have certain tropes they like writing, and certain plot twists they favor, and after awhile even the best author starts to feel sort of same-ish.)

Anyway ... I'm really looking forward to reading more! The library has Whip Hand and a bunch of his other ones, so I'll definitely be picking them up (once I work through the batch I've got now).
"Truth be told, most of my fiction reading was fanfic the last couple of years."

The same was happening with me so I have been making a conscience effort to broaden my reading. I recently developed a love for Urban Fantasy and they all seem to take place in NYC which I find amusing because I keep thinking of crossovers with White Collar. ; )



Heh, yeah ... I like reading fanfic but I generally feel like I'm not expanding my horizons much; it's just escapist fun, and while there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, it gets pretty repetitive after awhile.

I hadn't noticed that about urban fantasy! Like private detectives and Boston, eh? :D Ironically, the urban fantasy series I'm writing is also set (partly) in New York; at least the book I'm editing right now is, even though I live on the other side of the country ...