Monday, September 14, 2009

Off to the Races!

Author, Shots contributor, occasional Rap Sheet poster, and self-appointed “style columnist” Mike Ripley shares a glass of champagne with Dick Francis at Claridge’s Hotel in London to mark the publication of Even Money. (Photo by Mike Stotter)

A new week, a new book giveaway contest. This time, the focus is on British champion jockey-turned-thriller writer Dick Francis, whose 42nd novel--and his third-in-a-row collaboration with his younger son, Felix--is Even Money, which was recently released in the States by Putnam and in the UK by Michael Joseph.

The Francises’ latest novel uses the business of track betting as its backdrop. Recapping the plot in his review for The Washington Post, Michael Dirda writes:
The hero of “Even Money” is Ned Talbot, a 37-year-old bookmaker who inherited his grandfather’s business. As the novel opens on a depressing day at the Ascot race course, Ned has already suffered more than his share of life’s troubles. His parents were killed when he was a baby; his beloved wife, Sophie, has had bipolar disorder diagnosed; his grandmother is gaga in a nursing home; and his electronics-whiz assistant, Luca Mandini, is thinking of quitting. What’s more, Ned feels increasingly pressured by the large-scale betting agencies that would dearly love to put him out of business and acquire his pitch position at the tracks. So it’s not surprising when the bookmaker, observing a happy couple, says to himself: “I supposed I must have been that happy once.”

Well, this being a Francis novel, things have only just started to get rough for Ned Talbot. Before Chapter 1 ends, he will learn that his father is actually alive and involved with something deeply shady. By the end of Chapter 2, there will be an assault and a murder. And by the beginning of Chapter 6, Ned will discover a rucksack with a secret compartment tightly packed with 30,000 pounds in cash, a mysterious device that looks like a remote control, some counterfeit horse papers and “a small polythene bag containing what appeared at first to be ten grains of rice, but, on closer examination, were clearly man-made. They looked like frosted glass.”
While Dirda contends that Even Money “may not be up to the standards of ‘Nerve’ or ‘Forfeit’ or ‘Whip Hand’ or ‘Reflex,’” he adds that “it’s still a Dick Francis thriller.” And that means a hell of a lot, especially given how long Francis has already been composing books. (His first, Dead Cert, came out in 1962!) This three-time Edgar Award winner, Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, and recipient of the British Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger will celebrate his 89th birthday on October 31 of this year. And Francis appears to have still more stories in him to tell. That he’s able to do so, however, has much to do with his 56-year-old son, Felix, who was a physics instructor for 17 years before taking an active role in his father’s career. In a recent interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Felix explained “how the collaboration came about after Francis and his beloved wife, Mary, who carried out meticulous research for the novels--even learning to fly for Flying Finish and taking up painting for In the Frame--retired from writing nine years ago, having produced a book every year for 38 years”:
“In 2000, my father and mother decided to retire, and that September my mother died, so it was not exactly a long and happy retirement,” says Felix. Four years passed with no new novels, and in 2004, Felix met with his father’s worried agent. “He told me: ‘Felix, we have a real problem, there’s a great Dick Francis backlist, but the books are dying, no-one is reading them because there are no new books, we need a front list.’ He said he had someone in mind who might be able to write a new book ‘in the style of’ Dick Francis, but I thought, well, before he asks someone else to do it, I’d like to have a go with my father.”

Felix helped his father with the research for ... Under Orders published in 2006, where Francis resurrected Sid Halley, the champion-jockey-turned-private eye and central character from previous bestsellers Odds Against, Whip Hand, and Come to Grief, and his next two books--Dead Heat in 2007 and Silks in 2008--were co-written with Felix.
This collaboration has taken some effort to get right; after all, the elder Francis currently resides in the Caribbean’s Cayman Islands, while Felix remains in England. And, according to a recent piece in The Guardian, the younger Francis has had to weather criticism for seemingly riding his dad’s coattails:
There have been snide comments about Felix being desperate to get his name on the dust-jacket and whispers about him just wanting to cash in on his father’s legacy. “Even in the family, people say, ‘How does being a physics teacher make you think you can write a novel?’” says Felix. How does he deal with it? “By writing good books that get good reviews and lots of readers,” he says. “The first book we did together--Dead Heat in 2007--made the bestseller lists because it had the name Dick Francis on it, but what about the next book, Silks--it too became a top 10 bestseller. If it had been no good, it could never have done that.” The reviews, he says, have been great, too.
Now you have a shot at judging the results of this writing relationship for yourself. Thanks to publisher Putnam, The Rap Sheet has three copies of Even Money to send--free of charge--to lucky readers. All you need do to enter this contest is answer one simple question:
Dick Francis’ autobiography was published in 1968. What was the title of that book?
If you need a clue, click here.

Send your response to this question, along with your mailing address, to: And write “Francis Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight next Wednesday, September 23. Three winners will be chosen at random from among those who submit correct responses, and their names will be announced on this page the following day.

One final note: At the publisher’s request, this competition is open only to readers living in the United States.

Hope to see you in the winner’s circle!

1 comment:

Pepper Smith said...

Oh, what timing. I've already got the book. I also know the answer to the question because I have that book, too.

Sigh. I guess that's what happens when you're an eager fan who pre-orders the new novel.