DICK FRANCIS – Twice Shy. Putnam’s, hardcover, 1982. Fawcett Crest, paperback, 1983.

   Over the years Dick Francis has become a very good writer. He’s always been an exceptional story-teller. Ever since he turned to writing mysteries, at the end of his career as a well-known steeple-chase jockey, his strength has been the inside knowledge he has of the world of championship racing, In one way or another, he’s displayed it to good advantage in every one of his books, all of them involving horses.

   Studying and absorbing a collection of the complete Dick Francis, over twenty volumes at present count, would constitute a sure-fire education in picking and producing the next Derby winner, redeemable at any track in the United Kingdom. Thrown in at no extra charge would be a full blow-by-blow description of all the pitfalls the unwary horseman may encounter along the way.

   Horses are in Dick Francis’ blood, and in that of every one of his heroes. It is also contagious. Even confirmed city-dwellers who have ridden a horse but once – like myself, or was it that the horse condescended to let me ride him? – or those who abominate all horsey stories from Black Beauty on up will find. themselves caught up in the excitement and the mystique and the thrill of the pounding final stretch. And that’s no mean accomplishment!

   In Twice Shy we get two stories for the price of one. A pair of brothers, both innocent victims, find themselves threatened in turn by one of Francis’s patented and typically brutal villains – one in the first half, the other in the second.

   Angelo Gilbert is certainly as bloodthirsty and despicably cruel an opponent as we’ve come to expect, but he’s also far less clever, and he proves much less of a challenge to be disposed of than that faced by most of Francis’s heroes. The fray is not without casualties – don’t be mistaken – but in spite of the tenseness of the various situations brothers Jonathan and William Derry unwittingly find themselves in, neither seems as overly taxed as they might have been.

   At stake is a computerized betting system that, if it really existed, would be worth millions. For the most part, however, keep in mind that gambling is strictly a mugs’ game. William Derry’s book-making friend Taff is a fine example. Gambling is a way of life in which only the good mathematicians survive. As far as a successful system for betting on the horses is concerned, well, if anyone has one, and it works, it’s like the perfect crime – nobody’s telling anybody else about it.

   From off-the-cuff handicapping, to the expertise of modern-day computer technology, Dick Francis’s name under the title of a book still means there’s plenty of excitement in store, from start to finish. This outing’s certainly no exception, but all in all I think Francis was coasting more than he usually does.

Rating: B plus.

– Reprinted and slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, September/October 1982.