Francis - Hot Money

September 02, 2004

Dick Francis
Hot Money
Audiobook performed by Simon Prebble

Dick Francis is the perfect middlebrow author. That might be why I like his stuff so much. His characters are all essentially capable people, a mark of popular fiction, but they are also flawed, aware of their flaws, and working within the realm of human strengths and weaknesses, a mark of literature. He writes like a duck: the prose moves along so smoothly that you don't realize how hard he must have paddled to create the illusion of effortless motion. He is not a swan, it is not elegant prose, but it is clear and at times quite powerful, and that is enough. More than enough at times.

Hot Money is a novel about dysfunctional families and the corrosive and yet healing roles of memory. Our hero is a middle son of a rich, effective father who has had 5 wives and a great pack of kids. Three were divorced, one died in a car crash, the 5th was murdered before the book begins. The book is about our hero's attempts to save his father from a series of murder attempts while deducing which of the people in this great big unhappy family is trying to do in the pater familias for the hunks and hunks of inheritance.

It might be that I am exploring my own midlife crisis, but I found the most compelling parts of the book to be those where Ian, our narrator, speculates on paths taken and not taken, on how easy it is to become a drone, and how rare it is to find something that one really loves to do. His ethos is that of the striving middling class - happiness consists in finding an avocation and working at it. Again, this is part of why he is a comforting novelist for someone like myself who is hopelessly middle class, and who is struggling to achieve an avocation against my own inner drone.

Finally, in this as in his other works, Francis has a pure joy in finding things out and sharing them with his readers. People who comment about what makes a blog fly generally mention that the thing that makes a blog compelling is that the author cares about her subject. The same is true in class, I will come to some aspect of history that I care about and I can feel the intensity in my voice rise, my body language shift, my speech tempo increase, and the kids respond - they sit up, the eyes open, and they perceive that this is something that matters to me. They may ignore me, that happens, but just like the a dance floor will give a collective shimmy when the bagpipes kick in, so too do the students react when I get onto one of my rolls.

Dick Francis shares an excitement about the world, that is his most attractive trait as a novelist. In his early novels this excitement was the joy of horse racing, or of flying, and his books are procedurals explaining what people do in these exotic occupations and sharing with the reader why Francis had so much fun when he was riding or flying. In his later novels, Francis turns this joy in life to a joy of finding about other things and sharing those with his readers. It might be the alcohol industry (Proof) or finance (Banker) or anything. In Hot Money it is not so much high finance as the basic procedurals. At one point Ian lectures his father on how to file a will with the English national registry so as to avoid probate difficulties, and while Dick Francis is using his fiction to impart a lesson in using the machinery of the state he is also sharing a certain fascination with the people and procedures that make a civil society work. Francis writes procedurals; he is fascinated with all the little things that people do when making their lives and their jobs work; and that fascination comes through the printed page.

It is why I like his novels.

Oh, and Francis' plain style and Prebble's very good reading combine to make this a very good audiobook indeed. I have read all of Dick Francis in paper; I think I shall start dropping his audiobooks into the car rotation.

Posted by Red Ted at September 2, 2004 09:36 AM | TrackBack
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