Fiction: “Banker” by Dick Francis

Good lord, I finished this book weeks ago. And then between reading two other books, staying abreast of Fall TV (OMG VAMPIRE DIARIES WHY DO YOU BREAK MY HEART SO), occasionally posting some classic movies taped off of TCM to Movies Alaina’s Never Seen under the Insomniac Theatre heading, and oh yeah, working, eating and sleeping, it’s been difficult for me to find the gumption to review this title.

And the worst part of it all is that I know that, once I start writing this (as evidenced here), the words will just pour out as always, I’ll read it through a couple of times quickly, then hit the ‘post’ button, go to bed, wait until tomorrow and then update again.

But now I’m sitting in the midst of Hurricane Sandy. I thank my lucky stars that the house in which I’m living comes equipped with a generator, so not only am I caught up on Vampire Diaries (DAMON AND ELENA go on another ROAD TRIP? IS IT THURSDAY YET?!), but I’ve also killed off all the Conan episodes, and now I’m working through Elementary, which honestly? I’m still not sure I like.

What I know I like is Dick Francis. And it surprises me, a bit, that for an author I claim to love, and for an author whose entire collection I own (save for a non-fiction title and the ones he wrote in partnership with his son following his retirement), I don’t read him very often. The last title of his I read was back in March of last year, when I flew out to California.

Hmm. I just realized I’ve lit a candle in case the generator fails, but then I remembered that my landlord has an oxygen tank and signs everywhere that say “No Smoking.” Candles don’t count as smoking, do they?

Okay, back to the book. Banker is a very important title to me, for two reasons. Number one — it was the first title by Dick Francis I ever read. Seventh grade was a very formative year for my reading habits. I distinctly remember trying to muddle through both A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Three Musketeers, all because of those ridiculous* Disney movies that were released that year, A Kid in King Arthur’s Court [WITHOUT looking it up: the titular Kid is the same kid that grew up to be one of the American Pie kids] and the Disney-fied version of The Three Musketeers*, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, and Chris O’Donnell.

*This is not a ridiculous movie. It is a kind of hilarious and, in many cases, awesome movie. I haven’t seen it in forever, but I still remember being disappointed that the movie didn’t follow the plot of the book entirely. Also, sidebar: how awesome is Tim Curry as Richelieu?

So I was struggling with those novels, and honestly, couldn’t retain anything of what I was reading. I knew I wanted to stretch my wings when it came to reading, but I didn’t know where to turn. In seventh grade, on the cusp of thirteen, what I really wanted to read were my mother’s romance novels, but back then, Mom didn’t think it appropriate for a thirteen-year-old to read of heaving bosoms and throbbing manhoods. (Note: it is never appropriate to refer to those in that terminology. Call ’em like they are, people.)

So one library trip, Mom suggested to me the Dick Francis titles, because “they’re all about horses.” I started reading Mr. Francis at the same time I started reading the Sue Grafton series, and both were deemed appropriate for pre-teen Alaina. I’m still not sure if Mom had ever read those, but apparently “this book has horses. Girls like horses” was good enough for her. Sex? Never. Violence and, in the case of Bolt, cruelty to animals? Yeah sure, okay. [See this, Mom? This is my tongue, firmly in my cheek. Love you!]

Okay. So I went over to the ‘F’-author section in mysteries, and picked up Banker. The other reason this title is so important to me is this: I have to read series in order. I am — dare I say it? — anal about making sure I’m reading a series in the correct order. Whether it be the Kinsey Millhone (and what’s easier to follow than the alphabet?), Stephanie Plum (okay, using numbers in the title is cool too), Sookie Stackhouse, V.I. Warshawski, Gregor Demarkian — even the dreaded Kay Scarpetta. I find out the order and I stick to that order, because the order is meant to be followed.

What Dick Francis does that none of the above titles do is he creates different protagonists for nearly every book. There is no particular order — you can pick up (almost) any Dick Francis title, and you don’t have to worry, “Oh no! Am I reading this out of order? Which one comes first?”

Having said that, there are a couple of internal series. At one point, he creates an ex-jockey named … Sid Halley, I think? I’d look it up, but I don’t want to get off the couch, and also, Sandy took out the Internets (WHY SANDY WHYYYYYY), otherwise I’d Google it. So anyway, Sid Halley is now a private investigator with a mechanical hand (LIKE LUKE SKYWALKER), and there are I believe three books about some of his cases. There’s also a two-title series with a protagonist whose name escapes me, but I know that they are Break-In and Bolt, in that order. So if you want a series, go for it!

But anyway, because I’m anal, and even though I recognize that Dick Francis doesn’t necessarily hold with continuity through his titles, I need to put order in there somewhere. So when I first went through his catalog, I read them alphabetically.

The first title alphabetically is Banker. And since I’m fast approaching my thirtieth birthday next year (and listening to No Doubt’s Return of Saturn over and over again, appropriately enough), I’m undergoing a severe bout of nostalgia. Hence, Banker.

So. What’s the damned book about?

The title refers to two different things: Number one, it refers to the narrator and protagonist, Tim Ekaterin, who is a financier for Ekaterin Bank in London. One day, Tim accompanies some of his department friends to Ascot, where Calder Jackson, an acquaintance, is a horse whisperer of sorts. Calder claims that he has healed one of the runners, Sandcastle, and that he is a fine example of a horse. So fine, that one of the friends bets everything on Sandcastle. Everything. Luckily, Sandcastle wins, and everyone rejoices. As the man has effectively made bank on Sandcastle, Sandcastle is also considered a Banker.

After a phenomenal season, Oliver Knowles wants to buy Sandcastle and put him to stud, and he contacts Ekaterin Bank for financing. Everything goes well — until the foals being born to Sandcastle’s mares are born deformed. Suddenly, Sandcastle — the supposed greatest horse in all of England’s racing history, certain to breed fantastic foals that will carry on the stud’s fantastic legacy — is labeled a failure, and Oliver could lose his entire stud farm.

Tim investigates, and learns that Sandcastle was most likely tampered with. He learns with the help of his pharmacist friend Penny that Calder Jackson may not be the faith healer that he seems to be.

After having read nearly all of Mr. Francis’s novels over the years (though intermittently, lately, so my accuracy may be off), I feel that Banker‘s action is a bit slow to start. There are quite a few characters and all are introduced, there is a romance with an unavailable woman that is both sweet and heartbreaking, there are some sidelines about potential monkey business going on in the bank that may not really go anywhere. But the other piece of the puzzle is that the mystery spans three years’ worth of time, from when Tim first sees Sandcastle at Ascot, to the purchase of the horse into stud, to the first round of foals being born and the following investigation. With that span of time, it makes sense for the action to be slower, but I wish that the pace had been more even throughout.

Well. This entry took me longer than I thought (an episode of Elementary and two episodes of The Daily Show), and while I only have one light on in the apartment, I’m feeling guilty with the storm going on, so I’m going to save this Word document until we get the internets back.

To all my friends on the East Coast: I’m thinking of you. I know Maine got off fairly lightly when it comes to the wrath of Sandy, so please let me know in some fashion that y’all are all right.

And to my friends elsewhere: stop with the Grease jokes, I’m begging you. They are old and tired — much like Danny Zuko nowadays.

Grade for Banker: 2.5 stars


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