Tuesday, October 22, 2019

At one time or another, I've read all of the novels written by Dick Francis, and I'm now working my way through them again in order and reviewing them here. I'm sorry to say that Hot Money did not work for me at all.

A Dick Francis novel usually follows a fairly definite pattern: The protagonist is a single male, almost always associated in some way or other with the world of horse racing. He's almost always single, although there may be a woman working her way into his life. He's usually quiet, but tough, smart and very resourceful. People almost always underestimate him. In most cases he's up against a tough, ruthless, vicious villain who almost always remains in the background until the end of the book. Usually, the protagonist will have to be severely tested, often through a gruesome physical ordeal, before he triumphs over his adversary and order is restored.

In this case, though, Francis departs from the formula and, to my mind, both the story and the reader suffer as a result. The protagonist is Ian Pembroke, an amateur jockey who somewhat resembles the usual Francis hero. He's the son of a very wealthy metals investor named Malcolm Pembroke. The elder Pembroke has been married five times and has produced nine children. All of them, save for Ian, appear to be severely maladjusted, as are the people to whom they are married.

Ian is unmarried and has no woman in his life, save for a married woman with whom he has an occasional tryst. There may be psychological issues involved here, but then it would seem that everyone in this novel could benefit from a few hours spent on the couch of a capable analyst. Ian and his father haven't spoken in three years. Ian made a critical comment about his father's latest wife and Malcolm punched him, breaking his nose and severing the relationship.

Now, someone has murdered the wife and is attempting to kill Malcolm, so Malcolm turns to Ian for help. (Naturally, his father has now realized that Ian was correct in his assessment of the woman's character.) For whatever reason, Ian still loves his father and is the only one of his children who is not grasping after the old man's money. He will spend the rest of the novel moving Malcolm around, trying to keep him out of harm's while he figures out who's attempting to kill him.

In this case though, it's no shadowy, malevolent figure. It seems clear from the beginning that the villain is someone in Malcolm's own family. Although he has settled trusts on all of his adult children, they are, for the most part, irresponsible, not very capable, greedy, grasping, ungrateful slobs, desperate for more money from their father. They all seem to hate Ian, believing for some inexplicable reason that he is their father's favorite and that he's attempting to cut them out of the will.

My problem with this book is that all of the characters seemed particularly unattractive and unappealing. Apart from Ian and Malcolm, I disliked all of them intensely and so really didn't care what happened to them. Ian was okay, but not nearly as appealing as most Francis protagonists. There was very little tension in the novel and very little suspense. Even though someone was apparently attempting to kill Malcolm and maybe even Ian, I was never really worried about them, and when the whole business was finally resolved I found the conclusion to be laughably absurd and unbelievable.

Anyone who writes as many books as Dick Francis did is bound to produce a clunker or two now and then and IMHO, that's the case here. That said, I realise that I am out of step with most of the other people who have reviewed this book here. I'm glad it worked for them, but a generous two and a half stars for me, rounded up, knowing that the next Dick Francis novel I read is bound to be better than this one.

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