Monday, August 20, 2018

A Somewhat Disappointing Effort from the Usually Reliable Dick Francis

This has to be, to my mind at least, the weakest of the novels written by Dick Francis. And, at least in the editions I own, it also has to win the prize for weirdest cover art.

The story opens when an amateur jockey and horse trainer named Randall Drew is approached by a member of the royal family with a special assignment. The prince's brother-in-law, a jockey named Johnny Farrington, would like to ride in the upcoming Olympic Games which are to be held in Moscow. But rumors are circulating that if Farrington should go to Russia, he might be entrapped in a scandal involving someone named Alyosha. The prince wants Drew to go to Moscow and nose around to see what the scandal might involve and determine whether Farrington or the royal family might be potentially embarrassed.

Apparently, there are no British agents already in the Soviet Union that might check out these rumors and so Drew reluctantly agrees to go. He gets to Moscow, meets some people, asks some questions, and gets beaten up a lot. The plot is preposterous and much more resembles a spy novel than a typical Dick Francis thriller. It strongly suggests that Francis wanted to take a trip to Moscow and write it off as a business expense, and thus attempted to get a book out of his vacation.

I had a great deal of difficulty following the plot and sorting out the characters after I was about a third of the way into the book, although this may well be because by then I had simply stopped caring about any of it and finished it only out of a sense of duty. A generous 2.5 stars, rounded up to three because I can't bring myself to give Dick Francis 2.5.

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