Mourning Dick Francis

Dick Francis was one of the first "grown-up" authors I remember reading as a teen.  His books on racing and various and sundry aspects of racing (air transport, bloodstock sales, steeplechases, etc.) always thrilled me and kept me glued to the book, until I reached the end.  His first novel, "Dead Cert" was published in 1962 and he published another one every after that.  When I saw a news flash on Sunday that he had died at the age of 89, I felt a sharp pang of sorrow.  My annual Christmas treat was always the latest 'Dick Francis'.  After the death of his beloved wife and partner, Mary, he announced he would not be writing any more.  However, the fan pressure became too strong and he resumed writing, this time with his son Felix as his partner/reseacher.  He wrote 42 novels in all, most of which I own, because I love to read them again and again.

Francis was the son of a horse breeder and served Great Britain during WWII in North Africa before being a commissioned bomber pilot, flying Spitfires, Wellingtons, and Lancasters.  He later became a professional steeplechase jockey, those daring men who guide tons of horseflesh over all kind of dangerous jumps.  He rode in more than 2300 races while winning 345 and becoming Champion Jockey in 1945.  He was a great favorite of the Queen Mother and rode for her quite a bit, including his final attempt at the Grand National when her horse collapsed within sight of the winning post.  Nothing was ever able to explain the horse's fall and he got up uninjured. 

Francis told the BBC in 2006: "It was a terrible thing, but I look back on it now and I can say that if it hadn't happened I might never have written a book, and my books have certainly helped keep the wolf from the door."

Enduring pain was a constant part of a jump jockey's life and the main characters in his books usually faced some trial of physical courage.  His heroes were always people you would like to meet, a lot like Francis himself.  Modest, unassuming, but always self-aware and brave, each had a different career and the books explored not only racing, but air transport, the rented horse van industry, weather, glass-blowing, painting, photography, etc.    Each area was carefully researched by Mary and then plotted and written by Francis, himself.  he won almost every award for mystery and thriller writing that existed, including three Edgar Allen Poe awards given by The Mystery Writers of America for his novels “Forfeit” (1968), “Whip Hand” (1979) and “Come to Grief” (1995).

He also was awarded a Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association for his outstanding contribution to the genre. The association made him a Grand Master in 1996 for a lifetime’s achievement. 

"I haven't suffered the same injuries as my characters, but I have suffered pain and I know it," he told the Los Angeles Times during a visit to Southern California in 1981. "I haven't suffered the mental anguish they have, either, but I know people who do, and I share their feelings."

Personally, his books were familiar friends that went with me from town to town, apartment to house.   I could always lose myself in the civilized world that inhabited his books.  I'm looking forward to "Crossfire" his last book he wrote with Felix.  It will be published later this year.

I know I'm not the only fan that will miss you, Dick.  Rest in peace.


Tessa's picture

Yes, we will miss Dick Francis very much!

Francis was and is one of my favorites, too--I admired the main characters so much.  There aren't many authors whose books I actually collect, but he is one.  My favorites include Proof and the Kit Fielding duo--I always hoped he would write more about Kit and his twin sister...Yes, we will miss him a great deal. 



janedb's picture

I also liked the Fielding books.

One character I always liked to see return is Sid Halley, the hero of Whip Hand.  Did you ever see the movies starring Sid?  Also three movies were made starring Ian McShane as a Jockey Club investigator.