Yes. I’m a Dick Francis fan. You know, the Welsh-born English jockey turned prolific crime writer in the world of horse racing. Most are passingly entertaining, and just enough different from the run-of-the-mill, everyday adventure/crime story to keep a reader wanting to read his next book. Though Dick Francis died at age 89 in 2010, his books are still read by fans today. Toward the end of his life his books were co-authored by his son Felix.
One of the best of his 40-plus international bestsellers has to be the one I just finished reading. The Danger, published in 1984, explores the world of international kidnapping from kidnapped to kidnappers, police, and those whose business it is to inform and prevent, or negotiate when such crimes happen. The book, being nearly 30 years old, is naturally dated in some things. After all, the world has moved a long way since 1984.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the emotional impact of abduction upon the lives, homes, companies, families, and individuals, which Francis explores quite vividly and with surprising insight throughout the novel. He shows the dehumanizing and demoralization of victims, and their almost childlike dependence upon their abductors for food, water, and even bodily waste. He takes us into the homes of the rich and famous and gives us a view of the family dynamics between husbands and wives, parents and children, and siblings, and how these homes are held together or torn apart through it all.
His protagonist is Andrew Douglas, a member of a jointly-owned international firm dedicated to preventing kidnapping, or bringing the victim back alive. Most of the partners are from crime prevention or spy-network backgrounds, though not Andrew. He was a lowly Lloyd’s of London clerk with a gift for being empathetic and emotionally well-grounded when he was recruited. For victims and their families he is their lifeline, their counselor, therapist, friend and confidante, helping them ride the waves of outrage, shock, guilt, hope, and despair.
When a drop goes awry in Italy with the kidnapping of a famous girl jockey, Alessia Cenci, her wealthy father is ready to beggar himself for her release. Usually a shrewd businessman who is always in control, he is slowly going to pieces right in front of Andrew, who counsels the father with empathy and hope.
Later, Cenci studies this strange young man who has come into his life and asks how he can always go directly to the heart of a problem — if he has studied self-analysis.
“No,” replied Andrew. “Lived it. Like everyone does . . . facing the shameful things, the discreditable impulses.”
“Did it result in sainthood?” Cenci smiled.
“Er . . . No. In sin, of course, from doing what I knew I shouldn’t.”
But Andrew is also a shrewd observer of events as well as people in all parts of the world. With this advantage he pulls together disparate bits of information that allows him to dog the kidnappers while staying behind the scenes, a faceless, dangerous, and unknown factor. He is a liaison between the police who, all too often, are focused more on the capture of the kidnappers and not the fate of their victims, and the hapless families, often preventing tragedy.
In “The Danger”, Dick Francis delves more deeply into human nature, motives, and the quixotic personalities of people under pressure, than any other book I’ve read by him. It is also fast-paced and relentless, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.