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Dick Francis’s distinctive formula was the combination of the amateur sleuth genre with the world of horse racing. Despite his reliance on these fixed elements of character and setting, he avoided repetitiousness throughout his more than two dozen novels by working in horse racing from many different angles and by creating a new protagonist for almost every book. His extensive research—one of the trademarks of his work—enabled him to create a slightly different world for each novel. Although many of his main characters are jockeys and most of his stories are set in Great Britain, he varied the formula with other main characters who work in a wide range of professions, many only peripherally connected with racing, and several of the books are set outside Great Britain—in America, Australia, Norway, South Africa, and the Soviet Union.

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Discussion Topics

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Competence is a running theme in the novels of Dick Francis. Choose a character you admire from your favorite Francis novel and explain what evidence it provides of competence. How can one recognize competence? What psychological benefits does competence produce?

Francis has written credibly about children. What characterizes young Rachel in Come to Grief? Is she credible? Why, or why not?

Francis’s heroes follow traditional methods of detection. Choose three methods in any novel and explain how they further the detective’s investigation.

Choose five specialized racing terms that occur in a Francis novel and explain what they mean from context.

Class distinctions are always interesting in Francis, with some self-made men becoming more snobbish than the aristocrats. Find an example in any of the books mentioned in this essay and illustrate that snobbishness.

How do Francis’s characters deal with pain? Provide examples.

Francis’s detectives have a tenuous relationship with newspaper reporters, sometimes seeking their help, other times suffering their criticism. Explain with examples.

In every Francis novel, readers glean lessons about horses. What are some specific facts you learned about horses from reading his books?


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Barnes, Melvin. Dick Francis. New York: Ungar, 1986. A study of Francis’s contributions to detective fiction.

Davis, J. Madison. Dick Francis. Boston: Twayne, 1989. A biography, offering analysis of major novels, an overview of critical opinion, and a good bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Fuller, Bryony. Dick Francis: Steeplechase Jockey. London: Michael Joseph, 1994. Biography of Francis during his years as a professional jockey, looking ahead to his later career as a writer.

Lord, Graham. Dick Francis: A Racing Life. London: Little, Brown, 1999. This well-researched biography claims that Francis’s wife, Mary, wrote (or cowrote) the novels.

Swanson, Jean, and Dean James. The Dick Francis Companion. New York: Berkley, 2003. Useful handbook includes everything from plot summaries of Francis’s mysteries to lists of Web sites devoted to the author.

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Critical Essays