A measure of Dick Francis’s art is that this book enchanted me one minute and annoyed me the next, yet from the moment I read the opening line I couldn’t put it down. That’s been my experience with Nerve and many of the novels written by this international master of horseracing mystery thrillers. I’m trying to work out why.
With its snappy title that as always perfectly matches the story, Nerve was only the second racing thriller Dick Francis published. I like reading the early works of an author, when the writing is fresh. But already the features of the classical Dick Francis hero are almost settling into concrete. Perhaps this is my solution as well as my problem: I rebel against the Francis “hero” formula yet find the voice of his typical first-person narrator utterly enticing.
Tall, slim and dark, Rob Finn the jumps jockey is appealing rather than handsome, intelligent yet an active hands‑on guy, well-bred but at home among the lower classes as well as rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. He’s a man’s man and street-smart yet more sensitive than most men – all in all, irresistible to women. But true to the Dick Francis formula, the hero’s single‑minded dedication to his racing and to his sleuthing means he is also not quite available, if not hard to get. This makes him doubly desirable.
He’s the most resourceful, self-reliant young man ever invented, yet constructed so we ache to help him. True to the Francis mould he’s effectively parentless – this time not an orphan but a “mistake” whom his wealthy, talented parents try to ignore. As usual, the hero has no brothers and sisters, and just one family friend – here a female cousin who also supplies the love interest, for Francis’s hero is always unattached, hard done by and needs love.
He’s also annoying. Finn refuses to be sensible and go to the police because he’s such a self‑reliant action hero. He pesters his resistant cousin to give in to his sexual infatuation with her. The book commends him as “determined” but in my view he’s a selfish bully. Yet he’s so cleverly constructed, one can’t help being on his side from start to finish. That’s my dilemma.
Casual Library Officer (Saturdays)