Category Archive 'Mystery Novels'

21 Feb 2019

The Mysteries of Dick Francis

, ,

At Crime Reads, Neil Nyren celebrates the inimitable Dick Francis.

Dick Francis was a master of the first line, the first paragraph, the first page. Once read, they hooked you immediately. Nothing would keep you from wanting to find out what happened next.

Take the opening of Straight (1989):

    “I inherited my brother’s life. Inherited his desk, his business, his gadgets, his enemies, his horses and his mistress. I inherited my brother’s life, and it nearly killed me.”

So much packed into three sentences. First, note the rule of three: inherited…inherited…inherited. Short-long-short-boom. How did his brother die? Were his enemies responsible? What was his business? His “gadgets”? Wait, inherited his mistress? Nearly killed him? You’ve got to find out, don’t you?

A few other choice openers:

    “I had told my drivers never on any account to pick up a hitchhiker, but of course one day they did, and by the time they reached my house, he was dead.” (Driving Force, 1992)
    “Sadly, death at the races is not uncommon. However, three in a single afternoon was sufficiently unusual to raise more than an eyebrow.” (Under Orders, 2006)
    “I intensely disliked my father’s fifth wife, but not to the point of murder.” (Hot Money, 1987)
    “I was never particularly keen on my job before the day I got shot and nearly lost it, along with my life. But the .38 slug of lead that made a pepper shaker out of my intestines left me with fire in my belly in more ways than one.” (Odds Against, 1995)

“Fire in the belly” is an apt term for all of Francis’s heroes—maybe not at first, but once their sense of injustice is aroused, they are driven. Most of them are ordinary blokes with a keen morality and, once spurred, they prove to be more courageous and resourceful than they—or their enemies—had thought themselves to be. They’re often a bit damaged—physically, mentally, or both—stalwart yet sensitive men in the 30s, who come from dysfunctional families and are often single—divorced, widowed, in love with someone inappropriate (a relative, a friend’s wife) and thus unable to act on it—and if he’s married, it might be to someone with a debilitating condition that makes physical intimacy impossible. Francis never made it easy for his heroes (though sometimes he let them meet someone romantically suitable by the end of the book).

The heroes were almost always different—Francis repeated only two characters during all of his 40 books from 1962 to 2006—jockey Kit Fielding, who appeared in two books, and jockey-turned-investigator Sid Halley, who appeared in three (plus one written by Francis’s son, Felix). Halley is a true exemplar of a Francis hero, a man intelligent and principled, with a hand terribly injured in a racing accident, the sight of it enough to make new acquaintances gasp, who finds bravery and his true calling in the midst of a storm of adversity.


06 Aug 2016

Commit the Perfect Crime in Yellowstone

, , ,


Vox describes how a law journal paper on an interesting legal loophole provided the plot for a mystery series novel.

C. J. Box’s 2007 thriller Free Fire, the seventh in a book series about a Wyoming game warden. The novel’s plot spins on the premise that in an uninhabited, 50-square-mile portion of Yellowstone National Park, you can legally get away with murder.

The book’s premise originates from a 14-page article called “The Perfect Crime” by Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt. The article describes a judicial no-man’s land in the Idaho part of Yellowstone, where a person can commit a crime and get off scot-free due to sloppy jurisdictional boundaries.

In 2004, … he wanted to churn out one last article to stay on track for tenure. He was researching obscure jurisdictional gray areas when he found a reference to the unusual jurisdiction of Yellowstone National Park. Like all national parks, Yellowstone is federal land. Portions of it fall in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, but Congress placed the entire park in Wyoming’s federal district. It’s the only federal court district in the country that crosses state lines.

Such trivia would scarcely summon a yawn from a layperson, but to a constitutional lawyer like Kalt, it was a flapping red flag. Kalt knew that Article III of the Constitution requires federal criminal trials to be held in the state in which the crime was committed. And the Sixth Amendment entitles a federal criminal defendant to a trial by jurors living in the state and district where the crime was committed. But if someone committed a crime in the uninhabited Idaho portion of Yellowstone, Kalt surmised, it would be impossible to form a jury. And being federal land, the state would have no jurisdiction. Here was a clear constitutional provision enabling criminal immunity in 50 square miles of America’s oldest national park. …

When the paper was published, the media went nuts. Stories appeared in the Washington Post, the BBC, NPR, and even a Japanese newspaper. Wyoming-based crime writer C. J. Box read about it and thought it would make a great plot for a novel.

“I write about mystery, suspense, and crime, so the idea of a perfect crime anywhere, and especially in my neighborhood, was just really intriguing,” Box told me over the phone.

His novel, Free Fire, made the New York Times extended best-seller list and continues to be popular. “Every time I go on tour, someone asks me about it,” Box said. “The book is sold all over Yellowstone, which I find really interesting. People are still buying it like crazy.”

Read the whole thing.

Your are browsing
the Archives of Never Yet Melted in the 'Mystery Novels' Category.

Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark