Break In by Dick Francis

May 9, 2019 Book Reviews 8 ★★★★½

Break In by Dick FrancisBreak In by Dick Francis
Series: Kit Fielding #1
Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons on January 4, 2005 (first published September 24, 1985)
Genres: British mystery, Mystery
Pages: 420
Format: eBook
Source: purchased
Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | Audible
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Also by this author: Straight

Jockey Kit Fielding has been riding the de Brescou horses in a succession of triumphs on the race course. But this winning streak is about to end. Kit’s twin sister, Holly, has come to him in desperation. Threatened by financial scandal, she and her husband may lose their training stables. Kit soon finds, though, that a greater danger lurks behind the threat - one that could be fatal.

Review

Break In is one of my favorite Dick Francis mysteries, and in my opinion, one of his best. It was written mid-career, before age and his wife’s death led to a slight decline in his work, if not his ability.*  Taut suspense, perceptive characterization, a dash of romance, and the author’s signature style and racing milieu combine to make Break In essential reading for any Dick Francis fan.

Steeplechase jockey Kit Fielding is at the peak of his career when his twin sister Holly begs for his help. Her husband Bobby Allerdeck has been targeted by a newspaper gossip column in an apparent attempt to ruin him financially. As Kit turns detective and digs deeper into who is going after Bobby and why, the scope and the true target of the campaign slowly emerge. The stakes ratchet up, as do the lengths to which the opposition will go, putting Kit in real danger.

Francis has a gift for writing vivid, compelling scenes in economic, down-to-earth prose, and for giving non-lethal situations the same intensity and sense of danger as in a murder mystery or thriller. (Some of his mysteries do involve a death, but almost as many do not.) He employs both gifts to great effect in Break In. As with most of Francis’s mysteries, the story takes place within the British racing world. Kit’s understated, polite friendship with the middle-aged princess whose horses he rides; his attraction to the princess’s American niece, Danielle; his closeness to his twin; his complex relationship with her husband Bobby, tainted by the antagonism inculcated into both of them from the cradle due to a centuries-long feud; Kit’s unspoken affection for the aging trainer for whom he rides; and above all, his love for racing… all of these give context and depth to both Kit’s character and the mystery as a whole. But the story hinges on Kit’s practical, clearheaded, and fiercely determined defense of Holly and Bobby. He has a hard head and a backbone of steel, and his opponents have no idea what sort of man they are up against. The reader does, however, because the novel is written in first person, from Kit’s POV.

The secondary characters are similarly well-rounded, though to a lesser extent because we aren’t able to share their thoughts. But Holly, Bobby, the princess, Danielle, and Wykeham (the trainer) do come alive on the page, as seen through Kit’s perceptions. So do the villains, or opponents (not always the same thing.) They are likewise complex, or at least nuanced. Although Francis never condones or minimizes the wrongs committed by various individuals, he portrays most of them as human beings in Kit’s eyes (and therefore ours), neither wholly bad nor wholly good… though usually leaning toward one or the other to some degree. The one exception is almost certainly both obsessed and a sociopath, and even in that case, the motivations are believable.

A well-plotted mystery-thriller with a touch of romance and an intelligent, honorable hero, Break In keeps me turning the pages even on the fourth or fifth reread.

 

 

*Francis’s wife, though never credited, collaborated on the books from the beginning. She carried out much of the research, made suggestions regarding plot and characterization, and edited the manuscripts. After Mary’s death in 2000, their son Felix, who had sometimes assisted her, stepped into that role, but may also have taken on more of the actual writing as his father’s health declined. He received credit as co-author for the four books published between after 2000. The only one of the four that I have ever reread is Dead Heat; the others felt flat to me, the prose not as vividly alive as in the earlier works.

 

four-half-stars

About Dick Francis

Dick Francis, CBE, was a popular British crime writer and retired jockey. He wrote over 40 mysteries, most of them set within the horse racing world or with some connection to it.

Born in 1920, Francis served in the RAF during WWII. He became a professional jump jockey after the war, winning over 350 races and eventually becoming champion jockey.

Dick Francis worked on his books with his wife, Mary, until her death. She did much of his research, and he considered her to be his co-writer: “Mary and I worked as a team. . . I have often said that I would have been happy to have both our names on the cover. . . I am Richard, Mary was Mary, and Dick Francis was the two of us together.” Later, his son Felix took over some of Mary’s responsibilities, and father and son wrote four novels together.

Dick Francis won a number of awards through his career, including the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger “for his outstanding contribution” to the the genre. In 1996, he was named a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, and in 2000 he received a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honors list. Dick Francis died in 2010.

8 Responses to “Break In by Dick Francis”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      He’s one of the few male mystery authors I read. I like him for a number of reasons, including that his female characters are characters rather than objects or plot devices… which wasn’t all that common among male mystery writers when Francis was in his heyday. His heroes don’t exude toxic masculinity, either, though they’re a bit stoic about pain. And the plots are generally well-written, too.

  1. Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library

    You know Dick Francis is an author I forget about for some reason. I’ve owned a number of his books over the years but only read a couple. I did enjoy all that I’ve read and really need to read more from him as I know he has quite the list of books!

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      He has quite a backlist (or had, since he’s dead; his son has continued to write in the same vein, but not quite as well, to my way of thinking.) I really love a lot of his books, and enjoy rereading them every so often.

  2. Lark

    I’ve only read one Dick Francis book but I really liked it. Which makes me wonder now why I never read another one. Hmm… maybe it’s time to read him again. 🙂

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      One of my favorite Dick Francis main characters! Along with Tor Kelsey from The Edge, Andrew Douglas from The Danger, Rob Finn from Nerve, and… oh, well, I like a lot of them. But Kit does stand out, and not just because he got two books. (Oddly enough, I’m not particularly fond of Sid Halley, and he’s got four or five books by now.)

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