Friday, October 01, 2010

Book Review: Whip Hand

Dick Francis
Awards: Edgar, Gold Dagger
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ –

Yeah! This is exactly what a fast-action, summer-reading kind of mystery novel should be.

As usual with Dick Francis, the story revolves around horse racing. The detective in this book, Sid Halley, is a former jockey who had to quit riding because he lost his left hand (his whip hand) in a racing accident. Sid’s missing hand is a perfect device for making him unique and giving him both physical and mental challenges to overcome.

Sid ends up solving three tricky and somewhat interrelated cases over the course of the book in spite of being threatened and severely beaten and - what turns out to be most difficult of all - having a severe crisis of confidence. I have to admit I don't remember the twists and turns of all of the cases because I was so wrapped up in the plot I just wanted to keep turning the pages to see what would happen next, but the most interesting of the three story lines was a bookmaking scandal in which promising young horses kept developing unexplained heart conditions.

I loved looking into Francis’s hoity-toity and yet also seedy world of English horse racing. I also loved how Francis gave me enough information as the book went along to make me feel like I was solving the case along with Sid; what surprised me surprised him too.

But, at the same time, Francis also held just enough information back to do a very effective call-all-the-characters-into-the-room grand reveal at the end. (Actually, in this book, you get a bonus mini-reveal in addition to the grand reveal, and it comes at just at the right time to make you feel like things just might turn out okay after all the struggle Sid has been through.)

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