Review: Under Orders, by Dick Francis

Under Orders
Under Orders
Dick Francis
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Description (from Booklist):
After an absence of six years, Dick Francis comes thundering up the track with a thriller that resoundingly demonstrates that the acclaimed author, if anything, may have gained a few steps. Francis re-summons his most popular protagonist, Sid Halley, a champion jockey turned sleuth, whose racing career was shattered when a horse fell on him and then an adversary mangled his left hand. Last seen in Come To Grief (1995), Halley, who brings racing knowledge, spirit, and resilience to whatever case he tackles, remains one of the most exquisitely developed characters in crime fiction. This adventure starts with Cheltenham Gold Cup day, during which one racegoer drops dead, a horse collapses after a stirring win, and the victorious jockey is discovered shot to death in the parking lot. Juggling several sleuthing assignments, Halley finds himself working not only for the father of the slain jockey but also for a Lord who wants to know if the races his horses run in are being fixed. The plot keeps delivering shocks as Halley’s investigation is derailed by threats and violence against his new love. And Francis once again proves himself a master of detail, seamlessly incorporating fascinating facts about DNA technology, myoelectric hands, Internet gambling, and even stitches. Wow. Connie Fletcher

After seeing Secretariat the other week, I was desperately craving Dick Francis novels. I’m sure there are other writers who bring the racing world to life just as well, but his books always offer the perfect blend of mystery, horses, humor and even a touch of romance, all dressed up in British English. I mean, you get the sense that former jockey-turned-detective, Sid Halley would even remember to send thank you cards after going to dinner, without being reminded.

As this was my first Dick Francis novel in years (I’ve read almost everything he wrote prior to about 1998, and am now catching up), it took me a few pages to get back into the rhythm of his writing – but only a few. Soon enough we were clipping along at a lovely canter, and I enjoyed reading about Sid’s trouble with his artificial arm (nice use of that to foreshadow the climax of the novel, btw), his lovely, solid relationship with his Dutch scientist girlfriend, and his continued friendship with his ex-father-in-law.

I also enjoyed the mystery (two, really, one involving an online betting system, the other involving race performances) – and the fact that even in his last years, author Francis continued to embrace modern technology. Cell phones, online gambling, fixing races – his research is always evident but never showy, and really, the only flaw in Under Orders is that, like most Dick Francis novels, it ended too quickly.

Goes well with: fish and chips and a beer