Dick Francis Francis, Dick (Vol. 102) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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

Denis Pitts (review date 15 October 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Nick Kimberley (review date 14 November 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 be shunned, but simply to ensure that no terrorists are armed out of the family's trading. Terrorists, alter all, are unprincipled lunatics whose actions are merely self-serving. Ironic, then, that throughout the novel Fielding insists that the police should not be called in—as he says, he has taken justice into his own hands. Isn't that one definition of terrorism?

Tony Hillerman (review date 15 March 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Dick Lochte (review date 7 June 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


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Brigitte Weeks (review date 21 February 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Frederick Busch (review date 6 March 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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John Skow (review date 21 March 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Dick Francis with Alvin P. Sanoff (interview date 28 March 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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William L. DeAndrea (review date Spring 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 December 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Donald E. Westlake (review date 5 February 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Charles Champlin (review date 12 February 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


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Sue Grafton (review date 12 February 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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S. J. Tirrell (review date 25 July 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Harriet Waugh (review date 18 November 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Jean M. White (review date 19 November 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Marilyn Stasio (review date 3 December 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


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Tim Cahill (review date 14 October 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Linda Stewart (review date 18 November 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Michael Killian (essay date 20 November 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Charles Champlin (review date 16 December 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Rick Mattos (review date Spring 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Maureen Corrigan (review date 17 November 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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!...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 27 July 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Elizabeth Tallent (review date 18 October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Cindy Dampier and Elizabeth Gleick (essay date 23 November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Rachel Schaffer (essay date Spring 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Doug Simpson (review date Summer 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 August 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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J. P. Donleavy (review date 17 October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Pat Dowell (review date 17 October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Dick Roraback (review date 19 December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (review date 20 December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 292 words.)

Dale H. Ross (review date Winter 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

Rachel Schaffer (essay date Summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5366 words.)

Richard Lipez (review date 18 September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 432 words.)

John Mortimer (review date 2 October 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1281 words.)

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (review date 20 October 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Kristiana Helmick (review date 27 October 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 776 words.)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 July 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 257 words.)

Norma J. Shattuck (review date Winter 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


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...

(The entire section is 927 words.)