The Re-Read Project – Dead Cert
“The mingled smells of hot horse and cold river mist filled my nostrils.”
– First line of Dead Cert, by Dick Francis (first published 1962)
And that is why I’m re-reading Dick Francis.
Because I read that sentence, and I want to read the next one, and the next one, and then the whole book’s over, far too soon.
Re-reading Dick Francis books is nothing new for me. I started reading them as a kid and I have, without a doubt, read each book a dozen more times each. Easily a dozen. Probably much more than that.
Let’s talk about why I started reading Dick Francis books. It was because of the horses. You knew that, right? I was horse crazy, and I was ready to move on from The Black Stallion, and I found Dick Francis.
So, the horses are why I started reading them, but they’re not why I kept reading them. I would have read Dick Francis books if they were about rocket ships, or cars, or shape-shifting zombies.
I read them for the language, first and foremost. Minimum words with maximum impact. The descriptions are simultaneously concise and indelible. Same with the relationships. No long, drawn-out descriptions of how the characters feel about each other. Just a few, careful observations, sentences, pieces of dialogue and you know, the main character’s head-over-heels for that girl. This person can’t be trusted. That person will be a steadfast ally.
Why re-read them now? Well, obviously as huge treat to myself, and to justify reading them yet again. I can tell my family – it’s not weird that I’m reading all these books again – it’s for work!
Also, this is my excuse to buy all the books on Kindle. My old paperbacks are well-loved – a little too well-loved – they were inexpensive to start with, and some of them were purchased from the Book Bonanza at my elementary school, then I moved them about seven times, and read them seventeen times, and the binding isn’t holding up so well.
I do want to keep all the original old covers and I’m looking for some cool ideas of what to do with old paperback covers. I mean, yes, framing them is an obvious possibility, but if anyone has any great, creative, artistic ideas, send them my way!
So, on to Dead Cert. I bought it on Kindle, I read it, and it was just as great as I remembered. And, yes, I remembered it quite well.
How’s this for scene-setting:
“The February fog was getting denser. It was now impossible to see much farther than from one fence to the next, and the silent surrounding whiteness seemed to shut us, an isolated string of riders, into a private lonely limbo. Speed was the only reality. Winning post, crowds, stands, and stewards, left behind in the mist, lay again invisibly ahead, but on the long deserted mile and a half circuit it was quite difficult to believe they were really there.
It was an eerie, severed world in which anything might happen. And something did.”
You betcha. Essentially, the main character’s best friend – who also happens to be the champion jump jockey; a dead cert to win – falls. It’s not a spoiler to tell you the fall isn’t natural.
And so begins a series of events that becomes familiar across Dick Francis books. A persistent main character – dogged even to the point of bringing harm to himself. A smart, gorgeous, and classy love interest. A fully developed villain you sometimes hate, but don’t always want to.
And the country. These books are very much set in England, and very much in the heyday of English horse-racing.
And the horses. They’re always there. The treatment (of course) is completely accurate, so in a way the references to them are quite casual, but always right.
There’s always something else, too – another subject which gets the deep-dive treatment. In this case it’s radio cabs. Now this book is 50 years old so having taxi-cabs called and dispatched by radio was a cutting-edge thing. Dick Francis books will always teach you something about another aspect of the world outside of horse-racing and this other something was often something brave, and new.
This post is already long enough, so I’m just going to say, yes I thoroughly enjoyed Dead Cert (again). Yes, I fully intended to take notes, but I just kept racing ahead with my reading … so I didn’t. Yes, I will undoubtedly read this book again sometime in the future. And, yes, if you want a quick, fun, intelligent, horse-centered read, try Dick Francis.
Up next time … Nerve.