Book Review:
Straight (Dick Francis)

Reviewed by Stephen Bespalko

Lithosphere (March 1996); Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.; Fallbrook, CA

This is not a new book, but since it is a murder mystery with a mineral theme I thought the readers of this column would find the book interesting. The title of the story is a pejorative idiom referring to someone who is honest -- and there are more than a few seedy characters in this story who aren't, well, straight. The novel begins with a really fine opening paragraph:

"I inherited my brother's life. Inherited his desk, his business, his gadgets, his enemies, his horses and his mistress. I inherited my brother's life, and it nearly killed me."

If that doesn't get your attention, I don't know what will. The character speaking those words, Derek Franklin, is a jockey pressed into service as the unlikely owner of a gem business after his brother is killed in a freak accident. The most unbelievable aspect of this story is that Derek and his dead brother are portrayed as basically the only two honest people in their respective fields, but this is only a slight distraction in an otherwise gripping mystery.

The setting for this story switches between London and surrounding countryside locations frequented by wealthy owners of thoroughbred racehorses; but since the book is plot-driven, the readers aren't shown much of either setting. Not to worry, though. The action starts before Derek leaves the hospital after his brother's untimely demise and is non-stop right up until (literally) the last page.

The charm of this story is the in strangeness of the clues. The sources of most of the mayhem Derek endures are a seemingly trivial scribble in the margin of his brother's diary,

CZ = C x 1.7,

and part of a kitchen utensil. The pieces of this puzzle are big and obviously fit together -- so you shouldn't have much trouble figuring out "who dunnit" well before Derek gets around to spilling the beans. Even if you don't catch some of the clues, this book is still a good read.

The book is available in paperback, so it should only set you back five or six bucks, if you can't find it in the library.

Straight by Dick Francis; Fawcett Crest Books; ISBN 0-449-21720-5; 1989.

Copyright © 1996 by Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.

The preceding article was originally published in the March 1996 issue of Lithosphere, the official bulletin of the Fallbrook [California] Gem and Mineral Society, Inc; Richard Busch (Editor).

Permission to reproduce and distribute this material, in whole or in part, for non-commercial purposes, is hereby granted provided the sense or meaning of the material is not changed and the author's notice of copyright is retained.

Last updated: 18 September 2002