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Dick Francis, 1920 – 2010

February 15, 2010 by Reader's Connection

Dick Francis, the Welsh-born jockey who became the author of 42 books–almost all of them mysteries set in the world of horse racing–died yesterday at his Caribbean home in Grand Cayman. His last few books were co-authored with his son, Felix; and his wife Mary (d. 2000) helped him write the earlier novels. (The extent of her assistance is something of a mystery.)

Here are four novels from the last ten or eleven years. One of them, Second Wind, is remarkable for its lack of horse-racing content, though you wouldn’t know that from the cover art. 

Even Money (2009, with Felix Francis)

Even MoneyDick Francis moved from a string of detective heroes who were steeplechase jockeys, as he himself once was before he broke his collarbone one too many times, to a wide range of characters somehow connected to the fascinating culture and subcultures of the racetrack: a movie actor, a TV journalist, a horse trader, and, most recently, in last year’s Silks, a barrister and amateur jockey. Now Francis, writing with his son, Felix, shines the spotlight on the pariah of the British track–the lowly bookie. Ned Talbot, an independent bookmaker, is well aware of the contempt in which even the bettors hold bookies. But his position gives him, as always with Francis heroes, an intriguing perspective on racetrack goings-on. Several of Francis’ mysteries open with a death on the track–this one begins with one just off the track on the first day of Ascot Races . . . Francis again delivers stunning plotting, a vivid setting, and crisp characterization. — Booklist

Under Orders (2006)

Under OrdersJockey-turned-P.I. Sid Halley, Francis’s beloved one-armed protagonist who last appeared in 1995’s Come to Grief, makes a welcome return here. This book begins on Cheltenham Gold Cup Day with three deaths, one of which involves a jockey being shot three times in the chest. While the police investigate the jockey’s killing, Sid, hired to investigate Internet gambling and the possibility of race fixing, believes his investigation and the murder might be connected. Stimulating characters including Sid’s ex-wife, her husband, Sid’s new girlfriend, and of course, the bad guys people this mystery, which, despite violence, death, and greed aplenty, is never depressing. The human frailty of Francis’s believable characters, who are not without a bit of humor, are what stand out here. The plot and ending are plausible, too, and may inspire new fans to join the already large Francis fan club. — Library Journal

Shattered (2000)

ShatteredHow far can you get from the world of horse racing and still be the doyen of the equine thriller? Francis’s latest hero doesn’t get any closer to the winner’s circle than glass-blowing, but that’s close enough for plenty of excitement.Minutes after his friend Martin Stukely is killed under his eyes at the last hurdle of a steeplechase, Gerard Logan gets a package from Eddie Payne, Martin’s valet, that Eddie insists Martin had meant for him. Inside is nothing but an unlabeled videotape. But it must be a doozy, because before Gerard has a chance to play it back, it’s stolen from his glassworks storefront, along with a parcel of money ready for the bank, by a cherubic white-bearded gent . . . Francis . . . makes glass-blowing as fascinating and dangerous as steeplechasing. — Kirkus Reviews



Second Wind (1999)

Second WindIn his fortieth novel, Francis introduces a decidedly unhorsey hero, BBC meteorologist Perry Stuart, who, with his best friend Kris, an amateur pilot, has long dreamed of flying through the eye of a hurricane. In an odd twist of fate, all the right circumstances fall into place: Hurricane Odin forms over the Caribbean; Perry and Kris have overlapping vacations; and Kris finds a wealthy Florida businessman willing to finance their adventure. As part of the deal, Kris secretly agrees to detour to tiny Trox Island and pick up a mysterious package. Unfortunately, Hurricane Odin has other plans for Perry and Kris, and their plane goes down in the storm-whipped seas. Ironically, Perry is cast ashore on Trox, which is deserted except for a herd of cows and a concrete bunker containing a safe full of strange-looking documents in assorted foreign languages. Rescued and back home in England, Perry finds himself the target of unknown assassins. Vowing to find out who’s after him and why, Perry winds up playing secret agent and uncovering a plot to sell ingredients for nuclear weapons to terrorists. Francis offers up intrigue, adventure, and a gripping, fast-paced plot. This one is certain to please his legions of fans, even those who think they only like the racing mysteries. — Booklist


1 comment »

  1. Gisele says:

    I absolutely love Dick Francis novels; I’m so sorry to hear of his passing. Thank you for posting some of his novels – I think there’s one there I haven’t read yet!

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