Dick Francis, RIP

Dick Francis jumping Devon Loch, the horse he was racing for the Queen Mother in the 1956 Grand National.

The Jury Box was a great fan of Dick Francis’ page-turners, listening to all of them on cassette on the daily commute. His stories were set in an unfamiliar world, that of British horse-racing, and they had a lot of action and suspense but weren’t so literary that they would prove a distraction to driving. Francis knew the world about which he wrote, as a storied former steeplechase jockey for the Queen Mother. His heroes, usually former jump jockeys, were always required to withstand some sort of excruciating pain visited upon them by the bad guys; as in the old Saint TV show, when you knew Simon Templar was about to get conked on the head, a Dick Francis protagonist also was in for getting slugged, or usually much worse, but always prevailed.

From his Daily Telegraph obit:

Where other thriller writers probed the darker crannies of the soul, Francis reaffirmed the values of human decency and the struggle between the man of good against the forces of lust for power, dishonesty and greed. Heroes can expect to be chained, beaten, burned or flayed two or three times per book – but good always triumphs in the end.

Francis possessed all the traditional tools of the thriller writer’s trade – narrative urgency and a subtlety in intellectual problem-solving – but he combined these with an emotional realism which had eluded writers like Agatha Christie. No one could convey as well as he what it felt like to be drowned, hanged, crushed by a horse or soaked in icy water and left dangling, gagged and bound from a hook in the middle of a Norfolk winter’s night.

More on the late Dick Francis:

The Daily Telegraph: A picture gallery * Dick Francis, the people’s favorite * Sneered at by snobs, loved by readers

The Times of London: Obituary * Dick Francis gave readers a racing certainty

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3 responses to “Dick Francis, RIP

  1. Which book or books would you recommend for a complete Dick Francis beginner?

  2. Amy, a handy thing about the Dick Francis books is that they don’t have to be read in any particular order ~ You can just jump in and start anywhere ~ He used to come out with one book a year ~ Not long ago it was revealed his wife actually did much of the writing, while he lent the racing know-how and famous pen name.

    At any rate, the members of this online Dick Francis Reading Group have voted for their favorites. I would suggest starting from the top and working your way down!

    Again, the books aren’t great “literature” — indeed, I can’t really remember the plot of one versus another — but they provide a very enjoyable page-turning diversion.

  3. Thanks! There are some great titles.

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