In the Frame

In the Frame - Dick Francis Synopsis When Charles Todd visits his cousin, Donald, he lands unexpectedly right in the middle of a major crisis: a burgled house, Donald's young wife, Regina, brutally murdered, Donald himself prostrated by grief, almost at his wit's end. What's even worse the police inspector instead of looking for a murderer starts accusing Donald of orchestrating the whole burglary to profit financially from it and help his ailing firm. Charles is outraged by their approach but what can be done? Especially that shocked Donald doesn't even think of defending himself efficiently.Returning to London Todd, who earns his living as a painter specializing in horses, is hired by Maisie to immortalize her burned house on canvass. Chatting with that lady he almost has a sense of déjà vu: Maisie, like his cousin, has visited Australia recently, she, like his cousin, brought back a Munnings painting bought for a very reasonable price in an obscure, little art gallery and now she lost her house and almost all her belongings. Just a coincidence? Or maybe those two tragedies are somehow connected? Also in the case of Maisie the insurers are giving the victim a lot of grief, suspecting foul play. When Todd decides to investigate, Maisie is only too willing to assist him financially.With her money, Charles is able to go to Australia and start sniffing around. He is helped by Jik, his old university friend, also a painter, and his wife, Sarah who live in Melbourne. Soon enough they trail a set of clues only to realize that someone is trailing them. What will they discover?What I liked I liked the characterization in this novel, I really liked it a lot. It was done in really great way. Charles (or rather Todd, he hated being called Charles in fact) is a painter and he talks, thinks and breathes his passion. If he watches somebody he can describe them very accurately afterwards, he can tell you what ingredients are in particular paint colours, he can distinguish between a fake and an original just looking at the paint brushes; you don't doubt for one second that he is the real thing. The same can be said about his friend Jik - although he is a man of a completely different temperament and style, he and Todd understand each other perfectly well mainly because they share the same way of thinking.It was a nice change that Todd wasn't made to fall in love during his investigation. Well, he kind of fell for Sarah but he controlled his feelings like an adult, responsible person. No insta-love or insta-lust - it made the novel even better. At least I got the feeling that the relationship between Jik, Sarah and Charles were natural and real.What's more, I loved the narration style - smooth, elegant, unaffected, peppered with funny dialogues and situations in the right moments, teaching you a thing or two about art as well. In fact I was surprised when I found out that Francis was not a painter but a retired jockey; the man definitely knew a lot about painting and must have had an artisitc soul.It is a crime story and I am glad to say that the whole mystery was nicely done, not very difficult but also not so easy to solve. Sometimes Todd reminded me of Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street - they shared the same passion in pursuing the justice. It is a compliment of a kind I suppose ;).What I didn't like I admit that Charles Todd was a bit too lucky from time to time, especially for a total rookie of a private investigator who encoutered very ruthless and agressive criminals on his path. It was his first case, after all! I was also surprised a bit that such a big, efficient criminal organization like the one he discovered didn't have a plant inside the police forces. However, those are minor quibbles.Final verdict One of better murder mysteries I've read for a long time even if it felt a bit dated. I will gladly take another Francis book.