Francis, Dick (Vol. 102)
Dick Francis 1920–
(Born Richard Stanley Francis) Welsh-born English novelist, short story writer, autobiographer, and biographer.
The following entry presents an overview of Francis's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 2, 22, and 42.
A former steeplechase jockey, Francis is famous for his suspense novels as well as his championship career. His thrillers usually focus on corruption in the world of horse racing and feature a hero struggling through various physical and psychological obstacles to return order to that world. Francis produces one novel per year, most of which are bestsellers. He has a strong popular following and most of his work is critically acclaimed.
Francis comes from a long line of Welsh horsemen. His father was a former jockey and a successful trainer. Although his father discouraged his interest in becoming a jockey, Francis signed up with a stable at the age of eighteen. Francis, however, did not have an opportunity to race before the outbreak of World War II. He became an Air Force pilot, flying Spitfires and then bombers, before returning to England to become a jockey in 1946. He won between 350 and 400 races and suffered from a variety of injuries during his career. He was England's champion jockey in 1954, and in 1957 he was jockey for the Queen Mother's horse Devon Loch in the Grand National. The horse stumbled in the last stretch and was unable to recover. After this great disappointment, Francis retired from his career as a steeplechase jockey. A publisher convinced Francis to write his autobiography, The Sport of Queens (1957), while he was still well known. The book was commercially successful and led him to write racing articles for the London Sunday Express for the next sixteen years. An admirer of the popularity of mystery novels, Francis always wanted to write one himself. When Francis's wife became worried about the state of their finances, she finally convinced him to try. He wrote Dead Cert (1962) which was accepted by a publisher and became a bestseller. Two years later he wrote Nerve (1964) and has continued at a pace of one novel per year since then. He writes from January to May on the balcony of his Ft. Lauderdale apartment, and for the rest of the year he and his wife travel and conduct research for his next novel. Francis has won several literary awards, including Edgar Allan Poe Awards for For-feit (1968) and Whip Hand (1979), and his work is among the most commercially successful in the crime and mystery genre.
All of Francis's books follow a similar formula: they are written in the first person; the protagonist is a male in his 20s or 30s with some connection to horse racing; and he is drawn into an intrigue caused by a villain whom he works to expose and defeat by the end of the novel. There are a variety of physical and mental obstacles to overcome along the way. Most of Francis's earlier work centers on the horseracing world. Dead Cert, his first novel, is the story of a jockey who uncovers and eliminates a race-fixing scheme. Forfeit is about a racing journalist whose invalid wife discovers a bookmaking scheme. While horse racing is always part of the story, even if only peripheral to the action, Francis also presents a new topic with each new novel. Subjects of Francis novels have included flying in Flying Finish (1966), gold mining in Smokescreen (1972), art in In the Frame (1976), technology in Twice Shy (1981), high finance in Banker (1982), winemaking in Proof (1985), and the gem business in Straight (1989). Francis' heroes are men of conscience who uphold values of justice and integrity. Francis asserts that his protagonists are not strictly autobiographical, but they are men he admires and he never makes them do anything he wouldn't do himself. Francis's experience as a steeplechase jockey exposed him to extensive pain and injury. He uses his knowledge of injury to subject his heroes to a variety of physical torments either through racing spills or attacks by villains. While Francis's earlier novels are filled with physical torture, his later work shifts its focus to the psychological aspects of pain and mental torture.
Critics often point out the influence of Francis's earlier careers on his writing. Reviewers compare the skillful pacing of his narratives to the skillful pacing of racing a horse. His work as a journalist helped him develop a succinct prose which critics praise. Francis is also known for his well-rounded characters, skill at suspense, and the authenticity of his dialogue and setting. Many critics find great humor in Francis's fiction, asserting that it provides relief when things get too grim. Reviewers disagree about the place of class in Francis's books. Several critics accuse him of being too aristocratic, but others assert that his heroes come from all classes. Class conflict is inherent in most of his novels. Some reviewers complain that Francis novels are overly violent and formulaic, but still praise his fast-moving and well-researched plots.
The Sport of Queens: The Autobiography of Dick Francis (autobiography) 1957
Dead Cert (novel) 1962
Nerve (novel) 1964
For Kicks (novel) 1965
Odds Against (novel) 1965
Best Racing and Chasing Stories 2 vols. [editor; with John Welcome] (short stories) 1966–69
Flying Finish (novel) 1966
Blood Sport (novel) 1967
Forfeit (novel) 1968
Enquiry (novel) 1969
The Racing Man's Bedside Book [editor; with John Welcome] 1969
Rat Race (novel) 1970
Bonecrack (novel) 1971
Smokescreen (novel) 1972
Slay-Ride (novel) 1973
Knockdown (novel) 1974
High Stakes (novel) 1975
In the Frame (novel) 1976
Risk (novel) 1977
Trial Run (novel) 1978
Whip Hand (novel) 1979
Reflex (novel) 1980
Twice Shy (novel) 1981
Banker (novel) 1982
The Danger (novel) 1983
Break In (novel) 1985
Proof (novel) 1985
Lester: The Official Biography (biography) 1986
Bolt (novel) 1987
Hot Money (novel) 1987
The Edge (novel) 1988
Straight (novel) 1989
Longshot (novel) 1990
Comeback (novel) 1991
Driving Force (novel) 1992
Decider (novel) 1993
Wild Horses (novel) 1994
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SOURCE: "Very Yoff-Yoff," in Punch Weekly, Vol. 291, October 15, 1986, p. 55.
[In the following review, Pitts criticizes Francis's Bolt for being snobbish and implausible.]
My favourite jump-jockey is a minute little fellow with a face like a pruned-up parrot and a voice to match. He's so small that he has to have a leg up on to the barstool; but when he gets there, he's good for many a yarn.
There was the drunken starter at Chepstow who fell off his stand and took off on the favourite's rump; and the semi-delirious rider who took advantage of a St. John's Ambulance lady in the back of a blood-wagon at Newton Abbot (and pleaded concussion); or the desolate, newly-gelded favourite who stopped to graze in a steeplechase at Fontwell.
He retired at the end of last season and the beer which he once declined, has given him a tiny, pimple-like paunch. He says he has broken every bone in his body in his time but there seems to be little mental deterioration—except, maybe, for a mild amnesia of the wallet.
"I suppose you wouldn't care to write my life story." he asked me the other day.
"It'd make great reading." I told him. "But Dick Francis has got the jockey business well sewed up."
I was somewhat taken aback by the fury that followed.
"Bloody Dick bloody Francis." he almost shouted. "What does...
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SOURCE: "Knacker's Yard," in New Statesman, Vol. 112, No. 2903, November 14, 1986, pp. 28-9.
[In the following review, Kimberley criticizes Francis's Bolt and asserts that thriller writers are not allowed to "retire gracefully" like old race horses when they "no longer cut the mustard."]
When old race horses no longer cut the mustard, they're allowed to retire gracefully. Not so thriller writers—which brings me to Dick Francis. Bolt is his 25th racetracker thriller and, like many of its predecessors, it's taken up with wealth, opulence and lineage. Kit Fielding, a well-bred jockey not at all like those you see interviewed on TV, rides horses for a princess whose family's vast but honourable business is threatened by an uncouth partner. Fielding sees off this loudmouth, and any other villains, while still managing to ride a few winners, take a few falls.
As you might expect from a man whose autobiography is called The Sport of Queens, there's little time spent with the lowly punter who, in the real world, makes the jockey's efforts meaningful. In fact, horses and courses are incidental colouring, endearing to those who like racing, off-putting to the rest of us. What matters is protecting the lovely princess and her money. Fielding shows a commendable desire to prevent the weapons industry from sullying that wealth—not, though, because guns in themselves are to...
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SOURCE: "Dick Francis And the Racer's Edge," in Washington Post Book World, March 15, 1987, p. 9.
[In the following review, Hillerman asserts that while readers generally do not read Francis's work for his plots, with Bolt "Francis finally uses a plot so flawed that it ruins the book."]
Admirers of Dick Francis don't read him for his plots. We read him for his precise use of the language, for rounded characters, for his skill at suspense and for the authentic trip he gives us through the world of steeplechase racing. When he gives us an outstanding story line, as in Blood Sport, Odds Against, In the Frame, etc., it is a bonus. Usually it isn't the plot that keeps us reading long into the night.
In Bolt, unfortunately, Francis finally uses a plot so flawed that it ruins the book.
We deal here with a cast even more aristocratic than usual in the expensive world of horses that Francis likes to explore. Roland de Brescou, the target of the dastardly deeds, is half owner of the French industrial conglomerate which bears his family's name. He is husband of Princess Casalia. Prince Listi is wooing his niece. And as Prince Listi reminds us, one of the useful things about being so well connected "is that if one seriously asks, one is seldom refused. Another is that one knows and has met a great many people in useful positions." Such powerful folks can...
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SOURCE: A review of Bolt, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 7, 1987, p. 13.
[In the following review, Lochte praises Francis's Bolt, noting the exceptional dialogue and faultless storytelling.]
Steeplechase jockey-turned-author Dick Francis' last racing tale, Break In, introduced us to a self-reliant rider named Kit Fielding who had to deal with a violent family feud that threatened him and his twin sister, a budding romance with a headstrong young woman and the navigation of several rather difficult races. The first of many surprises greeting us in Francis' new tale is the discovery that there is an Act Two to Kit's life.
Though many of the novelist's central characters are jockeys or former jockeys, he has gone out of his way to eschew series books, probably in an effort to make the point that, though they may share some common physical traits, jockeys are as individually unique as any other professionals.
Bolt is less a sequel than a continuation of the original book, and yet Break In is not required reading. With an almost miraculous economy of words, Francis swiftly sums up as much information as is needed from the earlier book, while simultaneously untying the ends that had been so neatly gathered. As Kit explains; "Winning the lady, back in November, had been unexpected, an awakening, deeply exciting … happy. Keeping...
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SOURCE: "Of Heroes And Horses," in Washington Post Book World, February 21, 1988, pp. 1, 14.
[In the following review, Weeks discusses Francis's Hot Money, focusing on the themes of horses and heroism which are found throughout Francis's work.]
Dick Francis' mysteries have been published every spring for more than 20 years. They come out in England the previous fall and many of his fans just can't wait those extra few months. Winter travelers last year returned to Washington loaded down with British editions of Hot Money. Soon the word was out among aficionados: "A good Francis."
And good it is, up there with Whip Hand and Forfeit. It is awesome how this 67-year-old former steeplechase jockey (he rode for the Queen Mother until 1957) produces an annual novel of unrivalled consistency and craft. Each one explores a new area of knowledge—ranging from artificial limbs to wine-making—that becomes part of the fabric of the story.
At the center of Francis' 26th thriller are a five-times-married international gold speculator, Malcolm Pembroke, and Ian, his son by his second wife. Ian is an amateur jockey with dreams of turning professional.
Francis once said that his heroes "are the sort of chaps I'd like to meet" and Ian is exactly the kind of young man most of us would love to meet: independent yet responsible, kind yet...
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SOURCE: "Dick Francis' Latest a Good Bet," in Chicago Tribune Books, March 6, 1988, p. 6.
[In the following review, Busch describes Francis's Hot Money as a thriller with enough suspense to keep the reader interested.]
"Hot Money," Ian Pembroke explains to his father, consists of "bets made by people in the know. People with inside information." Ian, a horse trainer and amateur jockey, is bodyguarding millionaire Dad, Malcolm—all over their native England, and in parts of Australia and America—because someone is trying to kill the irascible man who by Ian and outrageous to his seven other surviving children and their four surviving mothers, Malcolm's ex-wives.
His fifth has been murdered as the novel opens. It's a fine beginning, in Ian's voice: "I intensely disliked my father's fifth wife, but not to the point of murder." Father and son, estranged for years, become reconciled—become friends—as Ian labors to keep his father alive. For of all his children, Malcolm (their difficulties notwithstanding) trusts Ian. So do we. He's tough, resourceful, unselfish and, as Francis proves in some of his customarily magically stirring racing descriptions, a brave and able rider.
To Ian's credit, he loves his nasty family—the drunkard, the fat failed poet, the brain-damaged accident victim, the shrewish aerobics teacher, and the others. They are crass, small and...
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SOURCE: "Reverse Lear," in Time, Vol. 131, No. 12, March 21, 1988, p. 78.
[In the following review, Skow praises Francis's Hot Money for its believable characterizations and whodunit puzzle.]
Psychology is kept decently out of sight in most of the 25 horsey thrillers listed on the op-title page of Dick Francis' new entertainment. It is what goes on—wheels turning in the murky unconscious, and all that—when one of his characters, caught in some awkwardness, says "er …" That unmistakable Francis "er …" has got author and readers past many a potentially mushy spot and on to the good part, where the hero is gonked by hired gorillas or injected with horse tranquilizer, and then wakes up, aware that something is wrong, inside a locked steamer trunk.
The author's formula has become too predictable, however, and Hot Money is especially welcome because it offers a variation. No steamer trunks this trip, though as usual there are a few "ers" in the mixture, for flavor. Only the locked room of the mind (and the odd explosion) vex the hero, an amateur steeplechase rider named Ian Pembroke, as he puzzles out who is trying to murder his rich and autocratic father.
There is no lack of candidates. Malcolm Pembroke, a hugely successful gold speculator, has shed several repellent wives. Recently someone knocked off his loathsome fifth, presumably to keep her...
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SOURCE: "Finding Intrigue Wherever He Goes," in U.S. News and World Report, Vol. 104, No. 12, March 28, 1988, p. 56.
[Below, Sanoff presents Francis' remarks about his work and the research he does for his novels.]
I write mysteries because I like reading them. I would pick them up at railway stations and airports—and one day said to my wife Mary: "I'm going to write a mystery someday. These Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace books seem to be doing all right." At the time, I was writing about racing for the Sunday Express, but it wasn't quite so lucrative as my career as a successful jockey: There weren't so many dollars coming in. Still, the newspaper work taught me how to write—what words to leave out. After a few years, Mary said: "You always said you were going to write a novel. Now's the time. We don't want to lower our standard of living, and we've got two sons to educate, and the car is beginning to knock. You had better start."
I began in early 1961 and finished Dead Cert sometime in the fall. The publishers had it about 10 days and said they would publish it straightaway. It was a great day. The next book, Nerve, came out two years later. They made me write two in 1965. God, it was a hard year! There's been one every year since. The recent ones have got a little bit longer. Since I've given up the newspaper work, there's more time to spend on them....
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SOURCE: A review of Hot Money, in The Armchair Detective, Vol. 21, No. 2, Spring, 1988, p. 156.
[In the following excerpt. DeAndrea praises Francis's Hot Money.]
Last column, I had a few words to say about one of those writers whose mystery-story career is a cause of anguish, someone who has to "write down" to the mystery audience, who is constrained by the plot requirements of the form from doing something Better and Finer.
I kept thinking of this guy as I was reading Hot Money, the new Dick Francis novel, which should be out in its American edition just about the time you read this. Now, Francis is someone who adds restrictions of his own to the requirements of the thriller. The books are always first-person. There is always a horse-racing connection, however tenuous. The protagonist is always a man, young to middle-aged, with a trace of melancholy to his character.
And it doesn't constrain him a bit. Dick Francis's books are always filled with believable characters doing things for reasons that make sense in the context of the book. There is frequently violence in a Dick Francis novel, but it is never of the "Let's go for the gross-out" kind. As I have said before, it is there to show the courage and loyalty of the protagonist.
In Hot Money, there is a lot less violence than usual for a Francis novel. A lot less physical...
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SOURCE: A review of The Edge, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LVI, No. 24, December 15, 1988, p. 1758.
[In the following review, the critic complains that Francis's work has gotten weak and that The Edge is "lumpily padded, thinly plotted: a thouroughgoing disappointment for Francis fans."]
Once upon a time there was an ex-jockey named Dick Francis who wrote taut, fresh action-mysteries about racing (Dead Cert, Nerve, Forfeit, Bonecrack, etc.). For the past ten years or so, however, his fame has grown while his work has gotten ragged, strained, unreliable. And this new adventure—a formula train-thriller that's short on races, and virtually devoid of mystery—may well be Francis' weakest book yet.
Bland narrator-hero Tor Kelsey is a millionaire but, for fun, works as a security-agent for the British Jockey Club. Most recently, he's been on the trail of sleek villain Julius Filmer, who's guilty of extortion and murder—but always manages to walk away scot-free. Then the Jockey Club learns that Filmer has booked passage on "The Great Transcontinental Mystery Race Train," a Canadian PR event that combines a posh rail-ride with special races and a silly "murder game" (complete with hired actors) along the way. What dastardly evil does Filmer have in mind? No one is sure. But young Tor goes undercover—just in case—as a waiter/actor. From Toronto to Vancouver, he watches...
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SOURCE: "Dick Francis: Not Just Horsing Around," in Washington Post Book World, February 5, 1989, pp. 1, 6.
[In the following review, Westlake discusses Francis's "edge" over other writers of the English detective story, focusing on his novel The Edge.]
What is it, all at once, with Canada? First we had Sondra Gotlieb, wife of the Canadian ambassador, being quoted saying witty things about us and them; then we had the brouhaha up north about our trade agreement with them, making for the first Canadian election in history to be covered seriously in the U.S. press; and now we have Dick Francis, giving us an amiable train ride all across the breadth of Canada, pointing out items of interest long the way. Maybe this is Canada's 15 minutes.
Dick Francis, as everybody knows, gives a good ride. He did so when he first came to fame as a jockey, and he does so now, as one of our premier purveyors of the classic English detective story. The Edge, in a way, refers more directly to Francis himself than to anything in the novel; in both of his professions, he is a consistent winner not because of any particular flash or dash, but because he has the edge he is just that little extra bit better than anybody else in the race. And that's enough.
Which he proves again this time, in a novel that combines in a smooth and palatable way three elements that shouldn't mix well at all:...
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SOURCE: "Bloody Sunday," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 12, 1989, p. 6.
[In the following excerpt, Champlin calls the plot of Francis's The Edge "contrived and confining," but asserts that the novel "is suspenseful as always and interesting."]
Dick Francis is now indubitably one of the superstars among mystery/thriller writers: 200,000 first printings, major ad budgets, the works. The Edge, by my reckoning his 27th thriller, has a more contrived and confining plot than his others, but it is suspenseful as always and interesting because there is less of the ultra-graphic violence that has been one of Francis' hallmarks.
A bored and wealthy young horse lover has enlivened his life by getting into undercover work around racecourses. Now he is posing as a waiter aboard "The Great Intercontinental Mystery Race Train," bound west from Ottawa with a cargo of prize horses and their owners, aiming toward a kind of Super Derby in Vancouver.
Vile deeds are feared en route. The faked theatrical mystery enacted now and again along the way thus blends conveniently with the "real" perils. The villain is no mystery: a thoroughly nasty self-made man who has been acquiring fine horses by infamous but so far unprosecutable means. The suspense is what he'll get away with, and how, and whether he can be thwarted.
There is at last a thrilling...
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SOURCE: "Our Money Is on the Waiter," in The New York Times Book Review, February 12, 1989, p. 9.
[In the following review, Grafton praises Francis's The Edge for its authenticity.]
Now and then, a writer's skill and his subject are so perfectly wed that a whole new category of fiction has to be invented to accommodate the offspring. Such is the case with Dick Francis and his love of horse racing, which he's managed to blend into some 29 mystery novels to date. A former champion steeplechase jockey until sidelined by an injury at the age of 36, Mr. Francis has used his passion for the sport as the focus of fiction both polished and engaging. The possibilities are apparently endless for this fine craftsman. One needn't be a race track aficionado oneself to be drawn into the world he creates. (My own relationship with horses ended abruptly when I was 9, after a Calumet Farms thoroughbred bit me in the dress, ripping the waistband beyond redemption. I haven't stopped to give a horse the time of day since.)
The protagonist in a Dick Francis racing tale is inevitably male, ranging in age from his mid-20's to late 30's, competent, decent, dedicated, tough, often a solitary figure operating against great odds. His profession may vary, but he's always connected to the racing game in some guise; owner, trainer, jockey, pilot, photographer. Whatever his hero's occupation, Mr. Francis'...
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SOURCE: "Train Thriller Not on Track," in Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 1989, p. 13.
[In the following review, Tirrell discusses the problems with Francis's The Edge, including its weak premise, its lack of mystery, and the blandness of the protagonist.]
His record is impressive. After a near-fatal riding accident "put paid" to his career as a champion steeplechase jockey, Dick Francis took his intimate knowledge of the racing world and translated it into another winning profession, that of writing mystery/thrillers. The Edge is Francis's 29th offering and his latest in a string of international best-sellers.
Set aboard a Canadian Transcontinental Mystery Race Train, The Edge contains all the components of a classic Dick Francis thriller: a very unctuous, very rich, very evil villain; a nice, ordinary guy turned hero; horses; horse owners; racetracks; and a girl.
Tor Kelsey—the hero—is a Jockey Club investigator with a skill for blending into the background and seeing things that other people might overlook. Disguised as a waiter, he travels from Ottawa to Vancouver for the purpose of thwarting the schemes of the Machiavellian Mr. Julius Filmer, a man with a penchant for blackmail and murder. The difficulty for Tor lies in the fact that he has no idea how or when Mr. Filmer may strike.
Often Francis's novels begin with a...
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SOURCE: "Five Thriller Writers at Their Best," in The Spectator, Vol. 263, No. 8419, November 18, 1989, pp. 41-2.
[In the following review, Waugh lauds Francis's Straight as one of his most enjoyable novels.]
Dick Francis' annual treat for his admirers is out, and it is a good one. The story races along without any phoney plotting to slow it down. The hero of Straight is an aging steeplechaser called Derek Franklin who finds he has inherited his much older brother Greville's gem business after he has died in an accident. He only knew his brother slightly and knows nothing about gems. However, since he is temporarily on crutches, owing to a bad racing fall, he decides to spend his time sorting out his brother's affairs, which include a married mistress, two racehorses and the business itself, employing about six people. There is trouble ahead. People constantly clobber him over the head, there are two million pounds worth of missing diamonds which, unless they can be recovered, could mean the business going bust, and then there is the curious behaviour of Greville's trainer. In fact there is so much sculduggery around, and Derek receives so much physical damage, that I began to wonder whether he would be able to ride again. However, Derek is a Real Man and takes it all in his stride until he has everything neatly unravelled. This is one of the most enjoyable books Dick Francis has written in...
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SOURCE: "Dick Francis: Back in Winning Form," The Washington Post Book World, November 19, 1989, p. 10.
[In the following review, White asserts that Francis's Straight represents a return to the winner's circle for Francis after a string of disappointing novels.]
If you read the first paragraph of Straight, the latest Dick Francis thriller, I'm willing to wager, whatever the odds, you will sprint to the finish line.
Who can resist this lead-on:
"I inherited my brother's life. Inherited his desk, his business, his gadgets, his enemies, his horses, and his mistress. I inherited my brother's life, and it nearly killed me."
Derek Franklin, one of the more engaging narrator-heroes in the Franciscan canon of 28 thrillers, is hobbling around on a broken ankle after a steeplechase fall when he receives word that Greville, his older brother, is in the hospital on life-support systems after being injured by falling scaffolding at a construction site.
In the impersonal intensive-care room with a bank of screens showing Greville's brain waves and heartbeats, Derek realizes how little he has shared with Greville (19 years his senior) and wishes that they had been closer.
To Derek's surprise, he is the only beneficiary—inheriting his brother's gem-importing business, two horses...
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SOURCE: "Off-Track Villainy," in The New York Times Book Review, December 3, 1989, p. 32.
[In the following review, Stasio asserts that while Francis's Straight is well-researched, the sections about horse racing are more compelling than the scenes about gemstones.]
During the years that Dick Francis rode steeplechase jumps for the Queen Mother, he broke his collarbone a dozen times, fractured multiple ribs and dislocated, sprained, wrenched, twisted and smashed so many other parts of his anatomy that he lost count. It was while recuperating from one of these injuries, in fact, that the onetime champion rider took up writing as a hobby.
Today, 32 years and 28 novels later, the British author can still describe in wincing detail the pain of a broken ankle and the boredom that can send an injured jockey hobbling around on crutches in search of something to occupy his mind. Something like a good adventure with a bit of horseflesh and a spot of danger. Something like Straight.
Derek Franklin, the terribly decent hero of this well-told tale, is a steeplechase jockey who breaks his ankle in a miscalculated jump on the last fence at Cheltenham. Two days later, he gets another jolt when his estranged older brother, Greville Saxony Franklin, is killed in a freak accident. As his brother's sole heir and executor, Derek unexpectedly finds himself the head of a...
(The entire section is 617 words.)
SOURCE: "Surviving the English Countryside," in The New York Times Book Review, October 14, 1990, p. 45.
[In the following review, Cahill lauds Francis's Longshot as a satisfying, read-at-one-sitting novel.]
They're calling for passengers to board the plane to Tonga and I find that I'm unprepared. I need a book. Something light and entertaining and informative and plot driven. Ah, but there's always Dick Francis at the newsstand, several dozen of him, staring out from the best seller rack. I know that the book will be a mystery, probably a murder mystery, and that it will be set against a racing background. After all, Mr. Francis, once a champion jockey in Britain, has written a string of best selling mysteries, most of which check in regularly at the track.
I'm about as interested in horse racing as I am in dentistry—which is to say not at all. Still, experience has taught me that Mr. Francis is one of our most satisfying read it at one sitting writers. I know that. But I resist him because of the racing. Still, staring at a 16 hour flight, I find the phrase "don't take chances, go with Francis" echoing in my mind. So what if there are horses in this new book? When I look up from the last page, I'll be halfway across the Pacific, and the time will have passed painlessly. I'll know a little more about, ho hum, racing as well.
But Longshot turns out to...
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SOURCE: "Take a Walk on the Wild Side," in The Washington Post Book World, November 18, 1990, p. 9.
[In the following review, Stewart praises Francis's impeccable research for Longshot, and comments on how Francis deals with expletives in the novel.]
There are two kinds of readers: those who like heroes and those who like anti-heroes. The hero, in general, is unswervingly honorable, unquestionably decent, unabashedly straight. Ambiguity never pokes a finger in his eye. And unlike his opposite, the anti-hero, he doesn't seem to stumble onto paths of virtue by way of an accidental detour in the existential maze. He's there because it's simply in his bones to be there.
And there, in a nutshell, is the charm (or, depending on your attitude, the drawback) of the Dick Francis hero—the man who keeps appearing, under various names and selected occupations, in Francis's intelligent and well-crafted books.
Longshot, his 29th mystery-thriller, sets writer John Kendall, another of his pleasantly engaging young men, on an R-rated version of a boys' adventure plus country-house murder. The result is a thoroughly appealing whodunit, the kind to go to bed with on a cold winter's night or to take—along with chicken soup, aspirin and honey—at the first signs of flu.
In fact, so adept is Francis at his craft, so properly insistent on the borders of...
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SOURCE: "Champion Rider to Champion Writer," in The Chicago Tribune, November 20, 1990, pp. 1, 2.
[In the following essay, Killian describes Francis's life and careers as both a steeplechase jockey and a writer.]
Dick Francis no longer needs to ride a horse.
He has just issued Longshot, his 29th novel and 31st book, and, like previous Francis works, it is being displayed on the best-seller shelves of the nation's bookstores. This puts it in a league with Straight, his novel of last year, and The Edge, released the year before that.
In January, he'll begin his next one, and a year from now the bookstores very likely will be making a lot of shelf room for that one too.
It's hard to think of a more celebrated and avidly read mystery writer in Francis' adoptive United States or his native England. But he used to ride horses quite a lot, and has many more honors than the designation as England's champion jockey of 1954 to prove it.
Over coffee one bright, brisk recent morning as he prepared to drive out to the Virginia horse country to help preside over the running of the 53rd International Gold Cup steeplechase race, Francis recalled that his trophies have included a few broken bones:
"The collar bones, six times each side. Broke my nose five times. I crushed some vertebrae, and I broke my...
(The entire section is 1588 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Dick Francis Treasury of Great Horseracing Stories, in The Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 16, 1990, p. 7.
[In the following excerpt, Champlin provides a brief overview of The Dick Francis Treasury of Great Horseracing Stones.]
The short form demands, and in these selections receives, high dosages of wit and irony as well as surprise. The conjoined spirits of O. Henry and Alfred Hitchcock, so to speak, watch over much of the work, which is to be taken in small doses. One at bedtime, say.
The principal link to crime as such in another anthology is that its co-editor was Dick Francis. He and John Welcome have chosen and introduced The Dick Francis Treasury of Great Horseracing Stories. The authorships range from Conan Doyle (his "Silver Blaze," historic if only because it was therein that the dog, curiously, did not bark in the night) to Sherwood Anderson ("I'm a Fool"), John Galsworthy ("Had a Horse") and John P. Marquand whose "What's It Get You?" is a lovely sardonic tale about a caper involving a disguised horse.
(The entire section is 179 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Longshot, in The Armchair Detective, Vol. 24, No. 2, Spring, 1991, p. 228.
[In the following excerpt, Mattos lauds the "pulse-quickening suspense" of Francis's novels and Longshot in particular.]
In 1962, so the story goes, Dick Francis needed a new carpet for his sitting room. He decided to write a book to get the money. Drawing upon his past as a successful jockey, he wrote a thriller set in the world of horse racing. That was Dead Cert. He now has homes in both the U.S. and Great Britain, and I bet they all have fine carpets. In Francis's latest novel, the hero, John Kendall, is a struggling writer. He is down to his last few pence when the pipes freeze in his rooms and he is forced to seek temporary accommodations. About this time, he meets Tremayne Vickers, a successful horse trainer who feels the need to have his biography written. Although Kendall knows little of horses and less of Vickers, he succumbs to the lure of room and board. Kendall arrives at Vickers's estate amid a swirl of controversy about a trial concerning the death of a young lady at a party given there. Tensions mount as the skeleton of another girl, who has been missing for some time, is found in a nearby wood. As the list of suspects narrows to the Vickers group, we find the usual Dick Francis nail-biting, page-turning climax.
Dick Francis does not use a continuing series...
(The entire section is 400 words.)
SOURCE: "Another Day At the Races," in Washington Post Book World, November 17, 1991, p. 10.
[In the following review, Corrigan briefly discusses Francis's formula and how Comeback differs from his previous novels.]
By now, fans look forward to getting three things in a Dick Francis mystery. First, there's the obligatory "race-with-a-ctose-finish" scene, in which an unlikely horse with the heart of a champion beats the racetrack favorite by a nostril hair. Francis recycles this scene to establish the moral code of his books. It goes something like this: Racing is like Life. Cowards and cheaters always lose; the good and the brave always win, damn the odds!
Another staple of Francis's books is his reverence for superior bloodlines, not only in horses but in people. The typical thriller restores order to the racing world by restoring power to the aristocracy. Usually a humble but fearless hero (often a jockey) discovers an evil plot against racing. He informs one of the patrician members of the Racing Commission—someone with a name like Sir Nigel Gout. At first, Sir Nigel's judgment is clouded (maybe by decades of guzzling gin and tonics). But Sir Nigel always rallies, the low-class bounder is arrested, and our hero rides off, usually with Sir Nigel's niece.
That's the third trademark element of a Francis mystery—the love interest. To Francis, a desirable...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Driving Force, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 239, No. 34, July 27, 1992, p. 46.
[In the following review, the critic praises Francis's Driving Force for its believable characters and realistic setting.]
Archetypal Francis hero Freddie Croft is a 35-year-old former champion steeplechase jockey, knowledgeable about the British racing milieu and tolerant of its denizens, a bit of a loner, keen on honor and notably phlegmatic. His phlegm is sorely tested when two of his drivers—he owns 14 vans that transport racehorses from a Hampshire village—arrive with the body of a hitchhiker who died in the backseat during the ride. Before the death is ruled natural Freddie's head mechanic. Jogger, finds odd empty containers hidden on three vans. Freddie chases a midnight prowler, Jogger turns up with his neck broken, the firm's computer system crashes with a virus and Freddie discovers 10cc tubes filled with mysterious liquid in a Thermos that belonged to the dead hitchhiker. Worried that drugs are being smuggled during the vans' regular trips between England and Ireland and the Continent, he enlists help from Jockey Club Security in the undercover form of glamorous, older Nina. Muscle, money and malice threaten our hero in a wonderfully complicated plot centering on a lick virus. Colorful and believable characters, a setting so realistic the book could double as a manual on running a...
(The entire section is 250 words.)
SOURCE: "He Gets the Horse Right There," in The New York Times Book Review, October 18, 1992, p. 32.
[In the following review, Tallent offers reserved praise for Francis's Driving Force while pointing out some of the novel's flaws.]
In his autobiography, The Sport of Queens, Dick Francis could not be more direct about his latest profession: "When I write any one sentence. I think first of all of what I want to say. Then I think of a way of saying it." The brisk assessment of a situation, the lucid self-reliance, the smart refusal to fuss about what other people fuss a lot about—this confession rings with the elements of style for many a Dick Francis protagonist. Racing journalism was the means for Mr. Francis, in 1957 a retired Champion Jockey in Britain, not only to earn a different kind of living, but also to perfect professionally succinct prose conveying vivid action. Adept hero, dexterous prose—these are the unfailing aspects of Dick Francis' series of 31 novels.
With Driving Force he treats his readers to another amiably disillusioned, smart and un-self-pitying ex-jockey narrator. Freddie Croft's current business is transporting horses to English race tracks. "I had told the drivers never on any account to pick up a hitchhiker but of course one day they did, and by the time they reached my house he was dead." "Of course" nonchalantly removes this first...
(The entire section is 824 words.)
SOURCE: "As Easy as Falling Off a Horse," in People Weekly, Vol. 38, No. 21, November 23, 1992, pp. 139-40.
[In the following essay, Dampier and Gleick present an overview of Francis's life and career.]
Dick Francis begins every new year the same way. Each Jan. 1, he rises early, takes a walk on the beach and a quick swim, then repairs to the balcony of his Fort Lauderdale condominium. There the 72-year-old author sits in a pink lawn chair, takes out an empty notebook and waits, pen poised, for inspiration. "It takes quite a time," he says. "I sit out there and think. After a while, you find the words coming."
Another year, another best-seller. Five months after this annual ritual, Francis delivers a manuscript—always a tightly wrought tale of horse racing and gambling, spills, thrills and what he calls "dirty deeds"—to his publisher. And each fall the Welsh-born former jockey's eager public, including Britain's Queen Mother, devours a new Dick Francis mystery. His newest, Driving Force, like the 30 preceding it, promptly leapt onto best-seller lists here and in Britain. (Novelist Elizabeth Tallent, in The New York Times, called it "ingeniously entertaining"—standard praise for a Francis thriller.) He sells more than 200,000 hardcover copies of each new mystery—and millions more in paperback. "The books have done quite well," says Francis with characteristic...
(The entire section is 850 words.)
SOURCE: "Dead Funny: The Lighter Side of Dick Francis," in The Armchair Detective, Vol. 26, No. 2, Spring, 1993, pp. 76-81.
[In the following essay, Schaffer discusses the humor found in Francis's novels.]
Since Dick Francis published his first mystery novel in 1962, he has gained a world-wide audience of devoted readers. The critics who have written articles about him over the years put into words what his fans feel. Paul Bishop, for example, comments on Francis's skillful pacing, attributing that ability to "what he learned about pacing a horse" during his career as a steeplechase jockey. Michael Stanton approves of his "exquisite variations of setting, plot, and psychology" and notes the role violence plays in his novels. Charles Gould praises him for his "tight plotting" and "the strongly-marked and individual style which makes such storytelling into literary art." And Marty Knepper analyzes the considerable literary risk-taking found in his novels.
No reviewer, however, has ever described Francis as a notably humorous writer. And yet, humor is as integral a part of his novels as action and violence. Every one of his mysteries is laced with humor, not the slapstick or farcical kind deriving from eccentric characters or absurd situations, but clever verbal humor that most often takes the form of acerbic observations of human nature or clever retorts in dialogue. Whatever shape...
(The entire section is 3391 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Driving Force, in The Armchair Detective, Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer, 1993, p. 103.
[In the following review. Simpson asserts that "Francis always delivers a story you can bet on" as he does with Driving Force.]
Like a good race horse that always finishes in the money, Dick Francis always delivers a story you can bet on. His latest, Driving Force, is no exception. Again we have that winning formula: a decent, resourceful and courageous hero finds himself pitted against an evil force, which he ultimately overcomes. And, of course, some aspect of the horse racing industry is involved.
In this case, Freddie Croft, an ex-jockey, owns a business that transports horses. It's one thing when a hitchhiker dies of a heart attack in one of Croft's vans. But when an intruder searches the van, Croft knows something is up. Then the mysterious death of his maintenance man is too much of a coincidence. Croft's investigation leads to malicious destruction of his office and computer records, a senseless deliberate collision of his prized Jaguar into his sister's helicopter, and his being assaulted and subsequently dumped into the sea, where he nearly drowns.
Croft knows that some sort of virus is being transported, first because the deceased hitchhiker's thermos contained some tubes holding a liquid virus, and second because of the secret compartments...
(The entire section is 349 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Decider, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LXI, No. 15, August 1,1993, p. 966.
[In the following review, the critic lauds Francis's Decided as one of his most satisfying recent books.]
Francis's newest suspenser (his 32nd) is typical not only in its racetrack setting, but in its doubling of the hero's mildly dysfunctional family (he and his diffident wife are held together only by their brood of six sons) with another family of deep-dyed villains.
Because his mother Madeline was once married into the fractious Stratum family, owners of the Stratton Park racecourse, architect/builder Lee Morris, a restorer of ruined houses, owns a small number of voting shares in the course. His long-standing revulsion from Madeline's wife-beating first husband Keith Stratton has kept him away from the family—especially from his half-sister Hannah, a child of marital rape—and, despite the pleas of course manager Roger Gardner, he intends to keep his distance even when Keith's father, Lord William Stratton, dies. But an invitation to a meeting of the shareholders leads to an unexpected request from matriarchal Marjorie Binsham, William's sister—to look into the question of whether the outdated grandstands really need replacing—and while he's poking around along with his five oldest sons, an explosion rocks the stands and nearly kills him. Sabotage, of course; but was the...
(The entire section is 316 words.)
SOURCE: "Racing All the Way to the Bank," in The New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1993, p. 40.
[In the following review, Donleavy compares and contrasts Francis's Decider and William Murray's We're Off to See the Killer.]
My own long-term interpretation of the writing trade has been that it is the turning of one's worst moments into money. And in Dick Francis and William Murray we have two writers who are ambidextrous, so to speak, and indeed are turning both their best and worst moments into revenue. These authors come out of their corners jabbing you instantly in the imagination and setting on edge your state of expectancy as they unfold with complacency-piercing words the contrasting worlds of horse racing on each side of the Atlantic. In Decider, Mr. Francis gives his somewhat more polite version, peopled by aristocrats in their country mansions. In We're Off to See the Killer, Mr. Murray gives us a rougher picture of lust and venery, peopled by a tougher-sounding brand of folk whose abodes are where their hats hang.
Resentfully blaming the genre because it sells so well and makes its creators rich, one sometimes wonders if the so-called literary world is out to ruin literature that can be so readily read, like these quite gripping books by two of the best writers in the business. For I somehow imagine that this must be the most exacting form for the...
(The entire section is 1054 words.)
SOURCE: "Mysteries," in Washington Post Book World, October 17, 1993, p. 8.
[In the following review, Dowell asserts that Francis's Decider "runs smoothly and efficiently to a tidy conclusion."]
When you pick up Decider, the 34th mystery novel written by Dick Francis, there's no question that you've got a well-established, best-selling author in your hands. The pages are creamy and as thick as cardboard, and the story they tell—full of proper folk, ancient manses, and "squashy" furniture—runs smoothly and efficiently to a tidy conclusion.
The narrator is Lee Morris, an architect-builder with "Le Corbusier technology and humanist tendencies." His specialty is turning ruins into elegant, comfortable habitats. He houses his increasingly estranged wife and their six sons on-site in a converted double-decker bus while he builds a dwelling. Then they move in while the new place is on the market.
The old tithe barn on the Surrey-Sussex border that is their current abode feels like home, however, and that is where the manager of Stratton Park racecourse (you knew we'd get around to horses) finds Lee. He has an old, unhappy family connection with the Strattons, who own the park. More important, he owns eight shares of their racecourse. The fate of the park is a bone of contention among the snarling aristocrats. Thus is Lee, hated by the family, drawn...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Decider, in The Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 19, 1993, p. 6.
[In the following review, Roraback asserts that despite a slow start Francis's Decider is a good bet.]
A little late out of the gate, Decider, Dick Francis' 32nd (!) novel, is still worth a show bet, maybe even a place. Francis, of course, is the former jockey whose nourishing mysteries center about the racetrack. Decider's slow start, then, can be chalked up to its leading man, builder Lee Morris, who doesn't know a bangtail from an I-beam. Naturally he learns; by Page 241 he's good and hooked on horseflesh: "No architect anywhere could have designed anything as functional, economical, superbly proportioned." But it's a way from there to here.
Morris stumbles into the milieu via seven inherited shares in a racecourse 90% owned by the Strattons, a "noble" British family that makes the Jukeses look like your in-laws from Anaheim. Guilty of everything from pride and prejudice to embezzlement and incest, the Strattons are precariously strung together by the Honourable Marjorie—"a delicate-looking tough-minded old lady with a touch of tycoon"—and by ownership of the track. When the stands are torched, identity of the arsonist is elusive: Pick a Stratton, any Stratton.
Meanwhile Francis is freed to do what he does best. First a swipe at animal-rights...
(The entire section is 269 words.)
SOURCE: "Mystery and Suspense From Three Old Hands," in The New York Times, December 20, 1993, p. C15.
[In the following excerpt, Lehmann-Haupt praises Francis's Decider, asserting that Francis "writes winningly about horses."]
At the start of Mr. Francis's Decider, Lee Morris, an Oxford architect and builder, is asked to help save a race track in nearby Swindon from destruction by the wealthy but violently feuding relatives who have inherited it. Knowing he should stay clear, he nevertheless piles five of his six sons, ages 14 to 7, into the family bus and drives them out for a look at the track. Before he knows it, he and one of the boys are nearly killed by an explosion that destroys the grandstand. Which crazed family remember could have done such a thing?
As always, Mr. Francis, a retired jockey, writes winningly about horses. "Imagine the world without them, I thought: history itself would have been totally different. Land transport wouldn't have existed. Medieval battles wouldn't have been fought. No six hundred to ride into a valley of death. No Napoleon. The seafarers, Vikings and Greeks, might still rule the world."
As always, his humans are immediately likable or detestable, as his strong plotting directs them. And as always, Mr. Francis, whose 34th novel Decider is, extends his curiosity to a new interest, here the art of restoring old...
(The entire section is 292 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Long Shot, in The Armchair Detective, Vol. 26, No. 1, Winter, 1993, pp. 107-8.
[In the following review, Ross discusses survival in Francis's Long Shot.]
Survive is what the first person narrators of Dick Francis' very successful novels do and survival is what Long Shot is all about. Thirty-two year old John Kendall, an erstwhile employee of a travel service specializing in strenuous outings for adventure seekers, has published six survival guides for such trips. An expert photographer, helicopter pilot, specialist in wildernesses hot, temperate, and cold, Kendall has had a first novel (about the survival attempts of people isolated by a disaster) accepted. On the strength of that success, he has severed his ties with the travel service and is attempting to make his living as a writer of fiction.
Francis employs a standard convention: a group of people—related by blood and marriage—living together in an English country house in a small village. His narrator (in order to bolster his meager finances) signs on to do an "as told to" autobiography of the owner of the place, a self-made man with an outstanding reputation as a trainer of steeplechase horses.
Arriving in the dead of winter, Kendall is met at the train by a car that will take him to the country house to meet his employer. The icy roads and a mysterious stray horse combine...
(The entire section is 457 words.)
SOURCE: "The Pain: Trials by Fire in the Novels of Dick Francis," in The Armchair Detective, Vol. 27, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. 349-57.
[In the following essay, Schaffer discusses the use of violence and injury in Francis's novels.]
Dick Francis is no stranger to pain. For over a decade (1946 to 1957), as an amateur and then professional steeplechase jockey in England, he suffered countless bruises and 21 broken bones (not counting ribs) from the inevitable racing falls, followed by horses galloping over him. In his autobiography. The Sport of Queens, Francis details the variety of injuries he suffered over the years, emphasizing the ability of jockeys to heal rapidly and even to ride with broken bones. He takes an athlete's pride in his high tolerance for pain and injury, shrugging them off casually as merely something to be expected in his profession, yet offering fairly frequent and detailed descriptions of them.
In writing his autobiography, Francis honed his descriptive skills not only on racing details and action, but also on his first-hand experiences with pain and injury. When he later turned to writing mystery novels, he continued to use with great impact his first-hand knowledge of the world of British horse racing and the effects of pain and injury. Whether Francis uses pain to add color, action, and realism to the pictures of the racing and criminal worlds he so...
(The entire section is 5366 words.)
SOURCE: "Mysteries," in The Washington Post Book World, September 18, 1994, p. X10.
[In the following excerpt, Lipez calls Francis's Wild Horses "pretty enjoyable."]
The movie business is … the setting of Wild Horses, Dick Francis's pretty enjoyable new equestrian thriller…. [H]is nice-guy sleuth, Thomas Lyon, is the serious and well-thought-of director of "Unstable Times," a film based on a real-life (in the book) horsey-set mystery. And the eroticism here is not only central to the plot,… but it's also much more—I'm tempted to say—English.
Francis's 33rd mystery—which on a Francis scale of one-to-10 I'd rate an entirely respectable eight—gets off to an intriguing start when Lyon, in Newmarket for filming, hears the death-bed confession of Valentine Clark, an aged black-smith and old family friend. To Lyon's amazement, Clark asks for absolution for killing someone long ago. The details, however, are mystifying.
It soon develops that there's a connection between the confession and the story on which the film is based. Twenty-six years earlier, a young woman named Sonia was found hanged in a stable. In the novel that speculated on the incident, young Sonia's husband is wrongly accused of causing her death and then cleared. The novelist, who is also the screenwriter, is a pretentious artiste who lounges around the set, bemoaning the liberties...
(The entire section is 432 words.)
SOURCE: "Back in the Saddle Again," in The New York Times Book Review, October 2, 1994, p. 26.
[In the following review, Mortimer praises Francis's storytelling ability in Wild Horses.]
In many ways the writer is made by the day job. Where would Chekhov and Conan Doyle have been without their medical training, or Dashiell Hammet if he hadn't learned about the sleazier side of San Francisco as an operative in the Pinkerton detective agency? If Dick Francis' father hadn't been a steeplechase jockey, and if he hadn't decided to follow his father's breathlessly dangerous profession, we certainly shouldn't have had 33 novels that have entertained millions and won the approval of such as Philip Larkin, the fine but notably grumpy English poet, who was by no means easy to please.
"The mingled smells of hot horse and cold river mist filled my nostrils. I could hear only the swish and thud of galloping hooves and the occasional sharp click of horseshoes striking against each other. Behind me, strung out, rode a group of men dressed like myself in white silk breaches and harlequin jerseys, and in front, his body vividly red and green against the pale curtain of fog, one solitary rider steadied his horse to jump the birch fence stretching blackly across his path." The opening of Dead Cert, his first novel, published in 1962, in fact portrays Dick Francis chasing his subject. In this pursuit...
(The entire section is 1281 words.)
SOURCE: "High Life and Low In a Pair of Mysteries," in The New York Times, October 20, 1994, p. C19.
[In the following excerpt, Lehmann-Haupt complains that the characters and plot of Francis's Wild Horses are forced.]
At the opening of Dick Francis's latest racetrack thriller, Wild Horses, a dying old man, mistaking a young friend for a priest, asks to be forgiven for killing "the Cornish boy" and leaving "the knife with Derry." The friend goes along with the charade and absolves the dying man, assuming the confession to be senile rambling.
Certainly it would have nothing to do with the movie young man is directing on location nearby in "Newmarket, Suffolk, England, the town long held to be the home and heart of the horseracing industry worldwide." After all, the novel on which the movie is based is only a fictionalized version of a local murder case that remains unsolved. And the film takes such liberties with the book that the novelist is incensed.
So there couldn't be a connection, the narrator thinks at first. "Ah well," he reflects as efforts to stop his film grow increasingly violent. "One can get things wrong."
As always, Mr. Francis has done his homework in telling a story that links his longtime knowledge of horse racing with an unrelated profession, in this case Hollywood film making. In fact, Wild Horses is strikingly...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
SOURCE: "The Thunder of Racing Hooves Inspires Winning Mysteries," in The Christian Science Monitor, Vol. 86, No. 234, October 27, 1994, p. 13.
[In the following review, Helmick discusses Francis's love of horses and how he uses it in his novels.]
The Grand National at Aintree is England's greatest steeplechase; in 1956, British jockey Dick Francis lost it in the last 25 yards. The years have not worn away the tinge of regret in his voice as he describes his "darkest day."
But what good fortune for his soon-to-be readers. The loss prompted him to write his autobiography, which in turn has led to a streak of more than 30 best-selling mysteries, most of which incorporate a riding theme.
Indeed, as Francis said when we spoke together recently, horses are never far from his thoughts, and riding has become a kind of allegory for Francis's life: "The main good point of any jockey … is loyalty…. And in life, you do your best for those nearest to you."
He says that this has become a driving force behind his writing as well: "That is the honesty which I aim to preach."
That code often tips the balance in favor of Francis's protagonists. Francis concedes that he ensures his hero always "knows what is right" and that, in the end, "right comes out on top." This holds true in his latest mystery, Wild Horses (currently No. 7 on the...
(The entire section is 776 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Come to Grief, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LXIII, No. 14, July 15, 1995, p. 986.
[In the following review, the critic discusses the return of the protagonist Sid Halley in Francis's Come to Grief.]
Big news for Francis fans: He's broken his rule against recycling heroes and brought back one-handed p.i. Sid Halley (Odds Against, 1966; Whip Hand, 1980) to investigate a series of mutilations of two-year-old ponies. Sid naturally feels close to the equine victims, who've had their off-fore-feet amputated; but he feels even more unnervingly close to the suspect he soon uncovers—his old friend and former racing competitor Ellis Quint, now turned immensely popular TV entertainer. Despite the mountain of evidence that leads to Ellis's arrest, Sid, gagged by England's sub judice rule from discussing the case until the trial begins, falls victim himself to a campaign of smears and revenge so vicious—the weekly paper he's been working with suddenly turns on him in savage columns defending Ellis, and Ellis's father attacks him with an iron bar—that there must be somebody big and well-organized behind the vendetta against him. A world away from the racetracks he used to call home—the closest we get to a race is Sid's laconic comment, "I watched the Derby with inattention. An outsider won"—Sid pokes around after that somebody, risking not only innuendo and hatred, but the...
(The entire section is 257 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Come to Grief, in The Armchair Detective, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter, 1996, pp. 102-3.
[In the following review, Shattuck asserts that Francis does not fully explore the emotions and motivations of the villain in his Come to Grief.]
To say that jockey-turned-sleuth Sid Halley solves puzzlers involving horses and horse racing is to repeat what Dick Francis readers know already. To say that he solves them single-handedly is to perpetrate the obvious pun.
Actually, Halley's state-of-prostheses-art left hand comes close to being a co-character in Francis's Halley novels. At some point Sid's amputee status (the hand was lost in a disastrous racing spill) can be expected to become the focus of some character's malicious intent toward Halley-in-whole. A sub-theme of such encounters is people's not uncommon fascination with such physical infirmities. In Sid's dangerous business, morbid interest of this sort can segue to sadism.
Here, the twisted type who's seized by a grim compulsion to wound Halley where he's most vulnerable is a former close friend and fellow jockey who's now an adored media celebrity. What triggers this unsettling episode is Halley's finding and reporting of evidence that Ellis Quint, a genuine charmer, may have perpetrated a series of grotesque mutilations of ponies and horses.
Beleaguered by a pro-Quint public and...
(The entire section is 571 words.)
Adler, Dick. "Inspector Wexford in top form." Chicago Tribune Books (3 September 1995): 4.
Lauds the well-drawn villains and touching hero of Francis's Come to Grief.
Anderson, Michael. A review of Comeback. The New York Times Book Review (22 December 1991): 14.
Lauds Francis's Comeback as an enjoyable ride.
Binyon, T. J. "Criminal proceedings." The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4374 (30 January 1987): 108.
Criticizes Francis's Bolt for lacking the qualities commonly associated with Francis novels, including "tension, excitement, surprise, atmosphere and characterization."
―――――――. "Crime file." The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4421 (25-31 December 1987): 1428.
Complains that there is too much psychology and not enough action in Francis's Hot Money.
―――――――. "Criminal Proceedings." The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4471 (9 December 1988): 1376.
Criticizes Francis's The Edge for being "thinly plotted" and "carelessly written."
Campbell, Don. "Track, Casino,...
(The entire section is 927 words.)