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Don’t do it!

Wendy Doniger: Dick Francis, 15 October 1998

Field of 13 
by Dick Francis.
Joseph, 273 pp., £16.99, September 1998, 0 7181 4351 5
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... Any Dick Francis novel about horses and crime satisfies my definition of a myth: like a myth, it is one of a corpus of interrelated stories (most, though not all, about horses, and many about an ex-jockey named Sid Halley) held sacred by a group (Dick Francis fans, or Franciscans of a sort, Francisfans, who recognise one another, like ((Star)) Trekkies, across several continents, without benefit of secret handshake or decoder ring) over a period of time punctuated by ritual events: once a year since 1962, when, after a long career as a champion National Hunt jockey, he published his first novel, Dead Cert, we have celebrated the new Francis novel ...

Flying Colours

Nicholas Best, 17 April 1986

Lester: The Official Biography 
by Dick Francis.
Joseph, 338 pp., £12.95, March 1986, 0 7181 1255 5
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Born Lucky 
by John Francome.
Pelham, 157 pp., £9.95, November 1985, 0 7207 1635 7
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... from his femur, an ear almost torn off, a fractured skull, fifteen years’ worth of headaches – Dick Francis devotes two chapters of his biography to injuries alone. It was no doubt a marketing man’s dream to bring Piggott and Francis together for the official version. Each king in his own field – they even raced ...

Prince of the Track

James Ward: Jane Smiley, 19 October 2000

Horse Heaven 
by Jane Smiley.
Faber, 561 pp., £17.99, June 2000, 0 571 20540 2
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... Tale? The closest thing to a horse in the play is that notorious bear. Acevedo sticks to Dick Francis, who inspires him to ‘become the first Mexican steeplechase jockey to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup’. Deirdre Donohue, a disillusioned Irish trainer, takes the complete works of Shakespeare with her on a cruise to Alaska, as she looks for ways ...

One for the road

Ian Hamilton, 21 March 1991

by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 346 pp., £16.99, March 1991, 0 09 174533 0
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... as you say then fucking get up, or if it’s too early or something then put the light on and read Dick Francis.’ And then what? Sit and wait for it to go away – the feeling, and the poem? Amis believes it was ‘fear of failure’ that prevented Larkin from persisting in his attempts to be a novelist. ‘No poem of Philip’s preferred length lays ...


Thomas Jones: Q and China Miéville, 7 January 1999

by Q..
Sceptre, 256 pp., £6.99, May 1997, 0 340 68558 1
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King Rat 
by China Miéville.
Macmillan, 333 pp., £9.99, November 1998, 0 333 73881 0
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... for anyone else; like all jargon, it is exclusive. Fortunately, both writers use it sparingly. Dick Francis is unusual in being able to arouse in the pedestrian reader some of a jockey’s excitement, though many jockeys have experienced the thrill of winning an important race. Many more people have experienced the thrill of ‘losing it’ in a ...

Dying Falls

John Lanchester, 23 July 1987

Temporary Shelter 
by Mary Gordon.
Bloomsbury, 231 pp., £11.95, July 1987, 0 7475 0006 1
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Bluebeard’s Egg 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 287 pp., £10.95, June 1987, 0 224 02245 8
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The Native 
by David Plante.
Chatto, 122 pp., £9.95, May 1987, 0 7011 3247 7
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The March of the Long Shadows 
by Norman Lewis.
Secker, 232 pp., £10.95, May 1987, 0 436 24620 1
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... within a milieu, and the well-worked plot, make the book something like a much-better-than-usual ...

Be interesting!

John Lanchester: Martin Amis, 6 July 2000

by Martin Amis.
Cape, 401 pp., £18, May 2000, 0 224 05060 5
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... Kingsley, however, didn’t like anybody’s novels apart from those of Anthony Powell and Dick Francis, and his absolute honesty about this was a crucial part of his character. As Martin says, in some absolutely central way, Kingsley refused to make allowances for anyone, ever. He never faked interest in anything. This appears to have made him a ...

A Lethal Fall

Barbara Everett: Larkin and Chandler, 11 May 2006

... reviewer and essayist, he gave respect and appreciation to such various talents as Ian Fleming and Dick Francis, Michael Innes and Gladys Mitchell – all British writers. It is hard to believe that he hadn’t read, at some time between its first British publication in 1943 and the writing of ‘High Windows’ in 1967, a book by the writer regarded by ...

Read my toes

Francis Spufford, 5 August 1993

The Things That Were Said of Them: Shaman Stories and Oral Histories of the Tikigaq People 
told by Asatchaq, translated by Tukummiq and Tom Lowenstein.
California, 225 pp., £18.95, February 1993, 0 520 06569 7
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Ancient Land, Sacred Whale: The Inuit Hunt and its Rituals 
by Tom Lowenstein.
Bloomsbury, 189 pp., £20, April 1993, 0 7475 1341 4
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... go together. To the hunters, what they do touches the whole structure of the world: Moby Dick, annually. To the reader, the hunt confirms Lowen-stein’s extraordinary achievement in focusing and re-composing the mysteries of his source material. The kill achieved, everyone rejoices. Even the whale is pleased once its severed head has been dropped ...

American Manscapes

Richard Poirier, 12 October 1989

Manhood and the American Renaissance 
by David Leverenz.
Cornell, 372 pp., $35.75, April 1989, 0 8014 2281 7
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... of Captain Ahab. Only Richard Henry Dana in Two Years Before the Mast and, in The Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman, whose homosexual proclivities deserve more attention here, come forward as relatively standard cases of the urge to ‘be a man’. Leave it to the genteel types – William James being another and later example – to mistake manhood for the ...

Gentlemen Did Not Dig

Rosemary Hill: 18th-Century Gap Years, 24 June 2010

The Society of Dilettanti: Archaeology and Identity in the British Enlightenment 
by Jason Kelly.
Yale, 366 pp., £40, January 2010, 978 0 300 15219 7
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... young Boswell was always trying on new personalities and describing them to himself in his diary. Francis Dashwood, prime mover in the notorious set later known as the Hellfire Club, was not only a member of the Dilettanti but also of the much more respectable, not to say staid, Society of Antiquaries. The particular characteristic of the Dilettanti, at least ...

Night Jars

Thomas Jones: ‘The North Water’, 14 July 2016

The North Water 
by Ian McGuire.
Scribner, 326 pp., £14.99, February 2016, 978 1 4711 5124 8
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... acts. The North Water is self-consciously literary, thick with allusions to other books: Moby-Dick, obviously (Sumner is less Ishmael than Ahab by the time he limps off across the ice in pursuit of a white bear); Conrad (there’s something of Lord Jim about Sumner, trying to redeem his shameful past, and more than a little of Kurtz in Drax); Elizabeth ...

Who’s Got the Moxie?

A. Craig Copetas, 23 March 1995

The Mexican Tree Duck 
by James Crumley.
Picador, 247 pp., £15.99, May 1994, 0 330 32451 9
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One to Count Cadence 
by James Crumley.
Picador, 338 pp., £5.99, May 1994, 0 330 32450 0
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... of crystal meth. By the time you come up for air on page five, you’ll have been introduced to Dick Nixon’s political ghost, an ARVN position under the clotted Vietnamese sky, and Solomon Rainbolt, an attorney who can make a jury eat his shorts and convince them it was fettuccine al fredo. I will not say that Crumley is a bald-faced liar, but for a ...

People shouldn’t be fat

Zachary Leader, 3 October 1996

Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu 
by Simon Callow.
Cape, 640 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 224 03852 4
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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 460 pp., £20, September 1996, 0 316 91437 1
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... clear; that he was ever actively homosexual is uncertain. He may have had an affair with the actor Francis Carpenter, described by Callow as ‘camp beyond the dreams of Quentin Crisp’. The homosexual directors of the Gate Theatre, Micheál MacLiammóir and Hilton Edwards, were clearly smitten, though as Callow fairly notes, ‘the sexual undercurrent’ in ...

Valet of the Dolls

Andrew O’Hagan: Sinatra, 24 July 2003

Mr S.: The Last Word on Frank Sinatra 
by George Jacobs and William Stadiem.
Sidgwick, 261 pp., £16.99, June 2003, 0 283 07370 5
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... life of Samuel Johnson who stood a chance of writing a biography as entertaining as Boswell’s. Francis Barber was overqualified by modern standards, and too loyal for the job in any era, but for more than thirty years he was Johnson’s (black) manservant. There in the small hours – peeling oranges, brewing tea, mending stockings, lifting papers ...

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