In Memoriam: Dick Francis

Dick Francis passed away today at age 89. This news made me sad – not depressed or anything, the man was 89, but still.

The first Dick Francis novel I read was Banker. I think the second was Longshot, and I know another early one was Twice Shy. Over the past … [quickly does math] 15 years? I’ve read all of his books, save the three he wrote with his son in recent years, and his autobiography, The Sport of Queens. He is one of my favorite authors ever, and while I toast to his long and happy life, I am also saddened by the death of someone I consider to be a literary friend. [Not that I ever met him – I just share so much history with his books and — okay, I’m done babbling.]

I’ve already directed you to Longshot late last year; here are some of my other favorites:

  • For Kicks, written in 1965, was Dick Francis’s third novel. As I mentioned in the review of Longshot, Mr. Francis rarely uses the same narrator twice (I’ll list those instances below). This adventure concerns Daniel Roke, an Australian horse breeder and trainer who is asked to investigate a doping ring back in England. I’ve read this a couple of times. It’s one of the few adventures to take place even slightly outside of Britain. And honestly, Daniel Roke is a bit of a bruiser, which I always appreciate.
  • Proof, written in 1984. Proof is the story of widower Tony Beach, a wine merchant who buries himself in his work to avoid his grief. At a party he provides the wine for, a truck runs into the canopy and injures many and, if I remember from the last time I read it two years ago, kills a couple of people as well. Tony teams up with a detective to solve the mystery of who was driving the truck, and stumbles into a separate mystery of local taverns experiencing watered-down whiskey and wine. This time the story is only tangentially related to racing, and it’s one of the mysteries that is not narrated by someone involved in the racing world. An excellent tale of suspense.
  • The Danger, written in 1983. I’ve only read this once, but it’s stuck with me. Andrew Douglas works for a company that assists in negotiating with kidnappers and other types of almost-terrorists. In the same week (I think), a superstar Italian female jockey is kidnapped, as well as the only son of a premiere gentleman of British racing. I probably would have reread this sooner, but I think the copy I have is almost falling apart. I predict it’ll appear farther along in 2010.
  • Finally, there is Hot Money, written in 1987. This is the tale of the Pembrokes. Malcolm Pembroke, the patriarch, has five ex-wives and nine children, and as the latest and most hated of the ex-wives is found dead, the children are squabbling amongst themselves, and suspect that one of them was involved. Malcolm turns to his beloved son, Ian, for help. Ian is an amateur jockey, hence the racing tie-in. But this was a very character-driven mystery, and the characters were all distinctive enough, even coming from a large family.

The two narrators who get repeat turns are Kit Fielding, first seen in Break In and followed in Bolt the very next year; and his most prolific narrator, Sid Halley, the investigator introduced in Odds Against. He has three other novels dedicated to him: Whip Hand, Come to Grief, and Under Orders. Sid is notable due to his jockey career being cut short when a horse stepped on his hand, leaving it crippled. In later books, the damaged hand gets amputated, and he must deal with the loss.

I always feel guilty when I look at my bookshelf across from my bed and see all of the Dick Francis novels, and I’ve only been reading about one a year for a while now. His books are easy to grasp and quick reads; I should be reading them more often. I strongly recommend anything that Dick Francis has written, even if you don’t like horses or racing. The characters are fully formed and the plots move along with great suspense.

In the meantime, rest in peace, Mr. Francis. You will be missed.


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