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Sado-Masochism in Fine Literature

November 15, 2008

Let’s talk about Dick Francis. Or Dick Francis’ wife. Or whoever actually wrote Dick Francis’ books in Dick Francis’ name.

English mystery author. Writes about everyday guys, who have no business or no reason to go about solving mysteries (with a few exceptions) except a bizarre concatenation of circumstances. Always somehow involves horses, since he was a jockey before he was an author. Oddly shaped, spindly-legged thoroughbreds, but horses nonetheless.

Ignore the most recent dozen. By then he (or whoever actually wrote them) had gotten the formula down to a painfully regular cookie-cutter shape. But the early and middle stuff is good.

I grew up listening to abridged Dick Francis books on tape (along with Agatha Christie). I love To the Hilt and Decider. And if there’s one thing that Dick Francis novels will always deliver on in addition to complex interpersonal relationships, resigned dudes, and realistically twisty plots, it’s men in pain (no relation to the shitty website).

Dick Francis’ protagonists are constantly getting beat up by thugs, tasered, trampled by stampedes of horses, thrown off mountains, crushed by grandstands, pressed into burning barbecue grills, getting their arms ripped out of their sockets, or getting kidnapped and tied to trees.

And they’re always like, “No, really, I’m fine. I can still ride.”


“Is he alive?”

“No thanks to you, but yes, he is. He’s breathing.”

“Just leave him.”

“Chuck him over there.”

“Over there” turned out to be the edge of the plateau, but I didn’t realise it until I’d been dragged across the stones and lifted and flung over. I went rolling fast and inexorably down the steep mountain slope, almost bouncing from rock to rock, still incapable of helping myself, unable to stop, dimly aware of flooding with whirling comprehensive pain.

I slammed down onto a larger rock and did stop there, half on my side, half on my stomach. I felt no gratitude. I felt pulverised. Winded. Dazed. Thought vanished.

Some sort of consciousness soon came crazily back, but orderly memory took much longer.

Those bastard hikers, I thought eventually. I remembered their faces. I could draw them. They were demons in a dream.

The accurate knowledge of who I was and where I was arrived quietly.

I tried to move. A mistake.

That’s about eight pages into To the Hilt. It only gets better.

I can’t remember which book this is from, but I think it’s 10-Lb Penalty. Oh wait, no, it’s Enquiry. Where they have this conversation:

He said, as if putting a good yard of clean air between himself and the world, ‘Flagellation.’

‘That old thing!’ I said.


‘The English disease. Shades of Fanny Hill. Sex tangled up with self-inflicted pain, like nuns with their little disciplines and sober citizens paying a pound a lash to be whipped.’


‘You must have read their coy little advertisements? “Correction given.” That’s what it’s all about. More widespread than most people imagine. Starts with husbands spanking their wives regularly before they bed them, and carries right on up to the parties where they all dress up in leather and have a right old orgy. I don’t actually understand why anyone should get fixated on leather or rubber or hair, or on those instead of anything else. Why not coal, for instance… or silk? But they do, apparently.’

‘In this case… leather.’

‘Boots and whips and naked bosoms?’

Perth shook his head in disbelief. ‘You take it so coolly.’

‘Live and let live,’ I said. ‘If that’s what they feel compelled to do… why stop them? As he said, they’re not harming anyone, if they’re in a club where everyone else is the same.’

‘But for a Steward,’ he protested. ‘A member of the Disciplinary Committee!’

‘Gives you pause,’ I agreed.

He looked horrified. ‘But there would be nothing sexual in his judgement on racing matters.’

‘Of course not. Nothing on earth as unsexual as racing.’


‘Some of those girls make more money out of whipping men than sleeping with them.’

‘How on earth do you know?’

‘I had digs once in the next room to one. She told me.’

‘Good Lord.’ He looked as if he’d turned over a stone and found creepy-crawlies underneath. He had plainly no inkling of what it was like to be a creepy-crawly. His loss.

So really, although the above conversation is two vanilla men talking about a very stereotypical kink scene from a mainstream point of view, it makes one wonder.

But aside from the hordes of bruised, sutured men, a lot of his stuff is actually really good writing and authorship. So if you like mysteries, check him out. But not the newest stuff. It sucks.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2008 6:40 pm

    Thanks for recommending his books. Entertaining mysteries with bruised men in them make me happy. I first came across Dick Francis listening to an audio dramatisation of “Rufmord” (original English title “Nerve”). I seem to remember, if I’m not confusing it with another story, that the hero gets to spend a dismal night tied up and drenched with cold water somewhere.

    Hi, I’m like you, just with an i in place of a t. :)

  2. ranat permalink
    November 18, 2008 11:37 pm

    Oh my gosh maybe we were separated at birth.

    I don’t remember if I’ve read Nerve (he’s written so much). But it sounds peachy. :) (For me. Not for him. Which is why it’s peachy for me.)

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