|Posted by Vladimir Mortsgna on November 27, 2019 at 6:05 PM|
Whip Hand, winner of the 1980 Edgar Award for Best Novel, was the middle of three novels by Dick Francis to win the prize; Forfeit won in 1970, and Come to Grief in 1996. This is three decades, which is pretty impressive for an amazing career. I have read all of them (and at least two by Felix Francis), like hundreds of people, yet I wonder if anyone would ever have identified these three as Francis’ best. Myself, I consider his first three, Nerve, Dead Cert, and For Kicks as far superior to the three winners, but award voters do tend to miss early greatness in authors and they can probably be forgiven. I have already bestowed my “should have” Edgar for 1962 on Dead Cert, and Nerve and For Kicks only happened to go against The Light of Day and In the Heat of the Night in their years, which I didn’t and won’t argue with.
Whip Hand was also one of three novels to feature the same character, Sid Halley, a rarity for Francis (Felix has also used him once). This was a re-read for me, and the copy of Whip Hand I obtained for the purpose had all three of the original Sid Halleys in one convenient triple-header. Sid Halley is a former jockey who became a detective after losing most of one arm in a riding accident. Assisted by his useful assistant, Chico, he finds himself working on three cases simultaneously, one involving his ex-wife’s smarmy ex-boyfriend who has used her name to commit a fraud involving furniture polish, and one involving suspicion of corruption high in the security service of British racing. The most fraught involves a trainer for whom he formerly worked, who has been the victim of a suspiciously long string of unexpected race failures.
Sid makes a bit of progress on the cases, but before we reach Chapter 8 a wealthy bookmaker named Trevor Deansgate who Sid has known since the bookmaker was named Trevor Shummuck, reveals himself to be behind some of the criminal action, and threatens to shoot off Sid’s good hand with a rifle if he doesn’t drop the case. This sadistic threat is effective and first, and Sid stays away from the case long enough for his second client’s horse to join its predecessors in unexpected failure.
As with most of Dick Francis’ best ones, Whip Hand features yet another fiendishly clever plot to rig races; the solution of this one was convincing and satisfying, as usual. And I always appreciated the moral complexity of Francis’ characters, and the first time I read it, the struggle of Sid against his fear is fairly novel for a thriller. Rereading it, however, after having read the whole series, put it in a different light, and it slipped in my isolation on second reading. The sadism and ruthlessness of Trevor Deansgate and the moral strength needed to fight it were less interesting after I realized just how chockaplenty Francis’ novels were with sadists and jockeys whose strength is the ability to absorb pain and the threat of pain.
Categories: Edgar Winner Reviews (No Spoilers)