Dick Francis—like contemporaries such as P. D. James and John Le Carré—is a novelist who writes in the mystery form. His plots, while appropriate to novels that deal with crime, transcend the mere puzzle aspect of the traditional mystery. In a world peopled with interesting, varied characters driven by believable motivations, Francis expresses his concern with the disastrous effects of crime on everyone. He entertains, but he also gives the reader much to think about beyond the accustomed satisfactions of the genre.
In Twice Shy, his nineteenth novel, Francis once again fulfills most effectively the novelist’s basic task of telling a good story. He writes so well that his standard pattern—that of two intersecting worlds—never grows monotonous. One of his worlds is always horse racing, the other varies widely from novel to novel. Here, the equine plot is intricately involved with computer science—the second “world”—and integrated with several subplots, including the strained marriage of Jonathan and Sarah Derry and the relationship between two brothers—Jonathan and William—of considerable difference in age.
To develop his story, Francis relies upon a simple, tightly constructed, and straightforward plot—unfolded in strict chronological order as effect inevitably follows cause, without conspicuous digression or flashback. The novel moves at a brisk pace, with many of the trappings of the conventional thriller-detective story—particularly the death by violence of innocent victims, the “manhunt” theme, and an emphasis on dialogue and action.
In one conspicuous respect, however, Francis has departed both from his own familiar practice and from the conventions of the straightforward, no-nonsense thriller. He has divided his novel into two distinct narratives, set fourteen years apart, with a brief “interval” in between. Book 1 (“Jonathan”) is narrated by Jonathan Derry, an unhappily married physics teacher who is interested in computers and thus becomes involved with two murderous characters—Angelo and Harry Gilbert—who are trying to steal a computer program (recorded on three ordinary cassettes) designed to predict the outcome of races. Jonathan outwits the thugs and, thinking they are permanently out of the way, is reconciled with his wife and takes a teaching job in the United States.
Book 2 (“William”) which begins fourteen years later, is...
(The entire section is 999 words.)