Dick Francis Essay - Francis, Dick (Vol. 2)

Francis, Dick (Vol. 2)

Francis, Dick 1920–

A Welsh-born English detective novelist, Francis was also a steeplechase jockey and creates his novels around his favorite sport. Dead Cert is still considered to be his best work. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Dick Francis, a former British steeplechase jockey, has built each of his ten novels around racetrack settings. This may sound a bit limited, but Francis always brings it off….

In the previous novels, Francis' heroes have been stoic individualists, fighting against a universe that seems determined to reward evil and penalize good. This struggle both defines the characters and makes the novels exciting and thematically significant. There's something lacking in Rat Race, however. Matt Shore, the protagonist, just doesn't try hard enough. One of the characteristics of a Francis hero is the ability to transcend his physical limitations, to push himself beyond accepted boundaries of pain and endurance. But Shore seems oddly passive, too ready to rely on luck rather than determination.

John R. Coyne, Jr., "The Last Individuals," in National Review (150 East 35th St., New York, N.Y. 10016), August 24, 1971, pp. 937-38.

Before he took to writing suspense novels, Dick Francis was one of England's top steeplechase jockeys. Good training, you'll agree, for keeping readers on the edge of their saddles, which in 10 published thrillers so far he has admirably managed to do. In fact, Francis is the living embodiment of the old creative-writing saw that one should write about what one knows about. What he knows about is horse racing….

If he keeps writing yarns like this latest one, though, Dick Francis may change all that, Bonecrack abounds, to be sure, in all the tiresome details of paddock and turf, but galvanized by psychological tension, purgative sadism, and a witty, fast-moving, no-nonsense prose style which makes the action zip along at a much brisker clip than, say, the over-touted, more pretentiously "psychological" suspense yarns of Ross Macdonald….

[If] on its more modest level Bonecrack lacks some of the intellectual complexity of Francis's earlier triumph, Dead Cert, its movement is, if anything, cleaner and swifter.

Richard Freedman, "This Ain't Horsefeathers," in Book World (© The Washington Post), April 30, 1972, p. 6.

The name of Dick Francis conjures up nothing but respect and high praise in my personal annals of crime writing. He exploits his intimate knowledge of horse racing to produce literate, incisive thrillers. His twelfth, Smokescreen …, is, in the king's English, bloody marvelous.

O. L. Bailey, in Saturday Review of the Arts (copyright © 1973 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, February, 1973; used with permission), February, 1973, p. 68.

One of the best bets in the fast field of suspense thrillers is that ex-jockey Dick Francis will come in with a winner. His past record is impressive: extending from Dead Cert (1962), his first and possibly still his best, through Nerve (1964), Odds Against (1965) and one-a-year winners down to Bonecrack, last year. Francis, quite simply, writes very well about what he knows well—men, horses and racing. Mystery fans discovered this long before the outside critics took note. In Smokescreen …, Francis shows that he is a writer, not just a writer of novels about racing. He ventures from the paddock (the turf world is still in the background) to on-location in the movie-making industry with its stars, directors, camera angles and hangers-on…. Francis handles character as deftly as suspense and background. Linc, an engaging hero, is a study of a film star who wants only to step aside and be a nice average guy with a nice average life. Francis perceptively absorbs sights, sounds and smells. He must have been on a movie location himself, and he certainly has been to South Africa.

Jean M. White, in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), February 18, 1973, p. 13.