Tuesday, December 21

Under Orders - Dick Francis

It's the third death on Cheltenham Gold Cup day that really troubles super-sleuth Sid Halley. Former champion jockey Halley knows the perils of racing all too well - but in his day, jockeys didn't usually reach the finish line with three .38 rounds in the chest. But this is precisely how he finds jockey Huw Walker - who, only a few hours earlier, had won the coveted Triumph Hurdle.
Halley was forced to abandon the career he loved after his left hand was amputated following a fall - he has a top-of-the-line motorised prosthesis, but it has none of the sensitivity required to judge force in a horses' mouth through reins, making Halley useless in the saddle.
Under Orders is as much about the media as it is about Halley's detection work. It's also, of course, about the world of racing, but there's no need to know anything about that going in. Published in 2006, Under Orders is also a novel of the new millennium - online betting plays a key role in the racing world now, and in the plot; Francis clearly knows his field, and I doubt my skimming over odds and betting terminology significantly impaired my understanding of the novel. He raises very interesting questions about online gambling in general, and his take on the potential for turning users into addicts is insightful, if not unique.
Unfortunately there's been a lengthy gap between my reading of Under Orders and my review, which means that, though I remember how much I enjoyed reading it, I haven't a more coherent review to present. That will change next time -
Francis introduces the character and some of his history form the opening:
Rear Admiral Charles Rowland, Royal Navy (retired), my ex-father-in-law, my confidant, my mentor and, without a doubt, my best friend.
I still introduced his to strangers as my father-in-law, although it was now some ten years since his daughter, Jenny, my wife, had seen the need to give me an ultimatum: give up my job or she would give me up. Like any man at the top of his profession, I had assumed she didn't really mean it and continued to work day in and day out. And so Jenny left with acrimony and spite.
Though a sufficient background to begin with, I had a suspicion, which I haven't had with previous Francis novels, that Halley is a recurring character, so I wasn't surprised to discover that Under Orders is the fourth and final novel featuring this interesting and well-rounded character. A completist, I now have to read the preceding three novels, which is far from an arduous or disagreeable task. it may be a while, though, as Lynn and I are taking a break from the library in 2011 and focusing instead on our extensive To Be Read piles. - Alex

The Sid Halley quartet
Odds Against
Whip Hand
Come to Grief
Under Order

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