Thursday, April 21, 2011
Dick Francis is an all-time favorite of mine. So when I say that he had a formula for his novels, I don't mean to deride the quality of his writing or the entertainment value of the books. He had a winning formula:
His novels seem to always involve a protagonist (usually a man) in a job not known for its pizazz (insurance, wine selling, horse training, or meteorology, for example), with some connection to British horse racing, and a mystery to solve. This general outline works because it brings in a huge part of the story that is independent of horse racing and, because the gentlemanly heroes always enjoy and take pride in their work, the reader is left with a greater appreciation for the profession involved.
Banker follows this formula with great success. Tim Ekaterin is a merchant banker in London, responsible for making loans and raising investments for all sorts of private business ventures. One of his deals is to finance a stud farm's purchase of a champion horse, but things go horribly wrong.
The story is complex, involving a charismatic horse healer who uses herbal remedies and laying on of hands; horse-buying swindles; teratogens; and a depressing love triangle with the hero, an older woman, and her husband, the hero's professional mentor.
This romantic storyline is the weak part of the book. It never feels integrated into the main story and its resolution is too quick and too pat, although this does not detract from the overall enjoyment of a terrifically satisfying mystery.