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Risk, By Dick Francis
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For the most part, I find this one of the most enjoyable of the Dick Francis books. Certainly, the very first sentence of the book is a masterpiece of bringing the reader straight into compelling action and also in a single sentence and a very small number of words leaving the reader with a peculiar “what the --- ?” kind of response to that first sentence.

Although I didn’t so much so have that response when I re-read it recently, it did seem to me that after the first few action-filled pages, I did find in my first reading of it some years ago that it did bog down a bit in spots through approximately the fourth chapter, when the pace seemed to pick up again.

Risk is an interesting read, as Dick Francis books go, for a number of reasons.

It is towards the end of a series of about nine or ten books in which the protagonists have a primary career other than professional jockey. Even at that, most of the Dick Francis protagonists up to Risk have a career circumstance that either has some sort of investigative dimension or that has a fairly direct connection with racetrack life. Risk is one of those novels in which Francis gives the protagonist a career that, while it ties into racetrack life, exists in the profession’s own right outside the racecourse gates.

As with the vast majority of Dick Francis books, particularly up to this time, Francis does give the protagonist a serious connection to the world on the racetrack. Although the protagonist’s profession occurs in a traditional brick-and-mortar office, the protagonist also has an amateur jockey avocation which takes him onto the racetrack to ride in about thirty races a year.

The protagonist’s profession, however, is Accountant: a distinctive choice among Dick Francis novels.

One of the intriguing things about Risk is that as the story unfolds, Francis gives the reader insights into the inner workings of the racing industry as a more full-scale palette than he has in novels prior to Risk: and actually doesn’t really ever do at this level of detail again. (The arguably closest two other such instances being Under Orders, the last Sid Halley novel; and Silks, the second co-written with son Felix.)

Those insights come not through the time spent on the racecourse, although that knowledge helps. It is through protagonist Roland Britten’s work in Accountancy that he is able to piece together the details of a major embezzlement situation involving clients of the Accounting firm in which Britten is a partner.

As the reader progresses through the storyline, which contains the usual high action race-riding scenes as well as some kidnapping-related action, Francis gradually shows the reader through the mind of the protagonist how it is possible for an Accountant to solve a mystery underlying an abduction through a comprehensive awareness of how all the pieces should fit in terms of the bookkeeping transactions of various businesses associated with the racing industry. Since many of the racing professionals are clients of Britten’s, he has an awareness when someone in effect has “cooked the books” because of what does (or doesn’t) turn up in someone else’s books. Francis shows this principle in operation in intriguing detail.

Risk is also one of the books in which the psychology of the character mentality seems subtly different, somehow, than many of his other characters who have a jockey status: either amateur or professional. Roland Britten has, ultimately, to endure an extremity of suffering unusual even for a jockey and is certainly equal to the task of doing so. However, Britten also seems in some ways less stoical than Francis’s jockey characters tend to be. He seems more willing to recruit help and to admit to some degree of post-injury weakness.

The one other detail that I find intriguing about the book comes in the last few pages. It is difficult to tell whether this was intentional on Francis’s part or not. However, Francis sets out a final revenge event the embezzlers put the protagonist through. That event is structured and described in a way laden with symbolism.

This is the only case I can remember detecting latent symbolism in a Dick Francis novel, and it has peculiar interest for that reason alone. Although it is hard to tell whether that was subconscious or intentional, a secondary character does make a statement suggesting that the author did recognize the nature of that symbolism.

I would not call Risk necessarily the best introduction to Dick Francis novels for someone who has not read any others yet, because I think it stands out to best effect to someone who has read some of the earliest novels first. However, it is a worthwhile read, for the most part one of the best of the Dick Francis novels, and intriguing in its uniqueness within the Dick Francis cannon.


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