of my work plans for the afternoon, but in every other respect delightful: I got back from the library around 4 and discovered in my mailbox (courtesy of The Dizzies) the greatest object of my reading desire, Dick Francis's new novel Under Orders.
It was not in my Yahoo nature (I have been having Gulliver's Travels NIGHT AND DAY recently, it is slightly insanity-inducing but at least I've finished drafting that section of the chapter) not to read it at once so I devoured it & it was indeed exceptionally enjoyable. (Only too short! Barely two hours' worth of reading material. It is going to take great fortitude for me not to go and read another novel now, the problem with novels is that they are so more-ish--or to keep in my work-related register for now, novel-reading breeds novel-reading! Oh, a funny aside in Jon Lee Anderson's latest Cuba piece, which is not available online: did you know that Castro wanted to clone a super-cow to solve the country's food supply problems?)*
I am glad to see the LA Times blurb on the back says exactly what I think: "Dick Francis is a genius." (I might have had an exclamation point.) After Dick Francis's wife Mary died, he said he would not write another book, and so it is especially moving that you can see (am I incredibly naive to believe the press release?) his family really persuaded him it would be worth doing, it is my theory that his son Felix probably especially helped him with it the way Mary Francis used to. (Various people tried at one point to hype this up into a scandal, but it's very silly, they collaborated and they both chose to have the books published just under his name and that is all there is to it.) And I am happy to report that this one--Francis has sensibly chosen to feature Sid Halley again, Halley is probably his most popular and enduring protagonist (the usual Francis habit is to have a new guy in every book, only the guys are of course all fairly similar)--is exactly like the other Francis novels of the 1990s!
There is no better comfort reading for me than these books; I am held back from rereading the early ones only by the fact that my very favorites I have read at a guess as many as twenty times each, and even my least favorite ones probably six or seven. So a new one is an exceptional treat.
Peter Temple is my pick for the new Dick Francis, only much more intellectual and beautifully written (like if you got Samuel Beckett really excited about writing Francis-type novels; or I'd say Graham Greene, I don't think the name Beckett conjures up the kind of readerly appeal I'm trying to get at, only it happens that I am not a great Greene fan, but that's the level of moral seriousness & beauty in the writing you get in Temple's books). Lee Child's Jack Reacher books are the other closest things I've found to the satisfactions of Dick Francis in his prime. I have it in mind that Maggie Estep might be another possibility, I am going to seek out her Ruby Murphy ones and see what I think--I really liked the story she had in Brooklyn Noir, hers and Ken Bruen's were definitely my favorites, but I've never read one of her novels. Hmmm....
*This is Julian Comanthe writing in 2002 in the Telegraph about the bovine cloning candidate:
The daily milk yield of a cow called Ubre Blanca (White Udder), a cross between the Cuban zebu breed and a Canadian Holstein bull, astonished and delighted Communist Party officials in the early 1980s.
In 1982 it produced 110 litres (24 gallons) of milk in a single day - four times the average - and instantly became a legend throughout Cuba. It went on to set a world record by producing 24,268.9 litres of milk (5,338.5 gallons) in one 305-day lactation period.