One of the few characters champion jockey-turned-racetrack mystery writer Dick Francis has ever written more than one novel about is champion jockey-turned-racetrack private eye SID HALLEY. When his left hand is crippled in a racing accident, Halley is devastated. It's a fall from grace. Unable to face a future without racing, he takes up self-pity. Fortunately, his ex-father-in-law steps in and cons Sid into investigating some shady goings-on at a racetrack he has an interest in.
It turns out to be the boot in the arse Sid needs. Discovering he has a knack for detective work, he sets himself up as a private investigator, sometimes assisted by boyhood chum and sometime-judo instructor Chico Barnes. The crippled, introspective, moody Halley and the rough-and-tumble, happy-go-lucky Barnes are a memorable team.
Francis captures perfectly the fears, insecurities and the vulnerability of a one-handed man in a two-handed world. In a society that worships the beautiful, the deformed are the true outsiders, watching from outside the circle of light, nursing their pain and resentment, hiding their hurt like so much shame, watching. It's a toss-up as to who's the better one-armed dick -- Halley or Michael Collins' Dan Fortune.
In 1978, a British television series based on the characters created in Odds Against appeared, entitled The Racing Game. Francis served as a consultant and was very impressed with the young, one-handed actor, Michael Gwilym, who played Sid Halley. So impressed that he wrote a sequel, 1979's Whip Hand, and dedicated it to Gwilym. Many, including this author, consider it to be his best book.
And in 1995, for the first time in his career, Francis wrote a third book about the same character. Come to Grief brought us a much scarred Halley, coming to grips with his own mortality and limitations -- when a very close friend becomes the main suspect in a nasty case he's working on, involving the deliberate mutilation of racehorses. It's a troubling and disturbing read, but also a powerful one, and it nabbed Francis an unprecedented third Edgar nomination -- the only time three consecutive books in a series have each been nominated for an Edgar. Although Odds Against (his first nomination) lost, both Whip Hand and Come to Grief did win, the latter the same year he won the Grand Master award.
Unfortunately, Come to Grief was to be the last novel Francis would be able to complete with the assistance of his beloved wife and partner, Mary, who passed away in 2000. The 1999 unauthorised biography, Dick Francis: A Racing Life, had suggested that Francis' books had in fact been written by Mary herself, although Francis never confirmed the rumours. Certainly, though, Mary did do much of the research and editing of Francis' novels and stories, particularly the latter efforts. After Mary's death, it was widely believed that Come to Grief would be Francis' final novel, but in September 2006 readers were treated to the unexpected appearances of a fourth Halley novel. Under Orders found Halley back on his feet (after the events of 1995's Come to Grief) and, if anything, more determined than ever.
Much like Francis himself, evidently.
2007 saw the publication of Dead Heat, a new (non-Halley) novel, co-written by Francis and his son Felix.
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Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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