Although only a handful of them are even professional investigators, master Britsh thriller writer DICK FRANCIS must be considered one of the best private eye authors of the late twentieth century, delivering a consistently solid, entertaining and distinctive body of work that can proudly stand up to any of his contemporaries.
A former Welsh steeplechase jockey who became the officialjockey for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, winning over 350 National Hunt races, Francis stumbled into a second, even more lucrative profession upon his retirement from professional racing. He became one of the most respected and popular mystery writers in the world, winning numerous awards including three Edgar Awards, the Crime Writers' Association Cartier Diamond Dagger, and the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award.
His heroes were invariably cool, aloof loners, calmly professional and possessed of a dogged pragmatism and steely determination that Hammett's Continental Op would have understood. They are also often at loose ends with their lives, and often scarred, physically and/or emotionally. They may not all be "official" eyes, but they certainly end up doing the job, even if the job description doesn't mention it. And, of course, each novel touches somehow on racing and horses.
To overlook Francis' work, or dismiss it as merely horsey versions of Agatha Christie as many American hard-boiled readers do, is just wrong. Dame Christie would never people her quaint little villages with such an assortment of villainous psychopaths and sociopaths, or put her heroes through such physical and mental torture. People get hurt in these books, and their pain isn't easily walked off. The bad guys are nasty, and brutal, and the books are often hardboiled almost to the point of noir. Fans of the P.I. genre could do a lot worse than to check out his work.
By far his greatest creation was the vaguely autobiographical Sid Halley, a former star jockey who finds a second career and a second life as a private investigator. It wouldn't be the first time -- or the last -- that Francis would write about a professional investigator: he also wrote books about David Cleveland (another investigator), Andrew Douglas (kidnapping/security consultant) and Tor Kelsey (train security expert).
But the books featuring Halley -- Odds Against (1965), Whip Hand (1979), Come to Grief (1995) and Under Orders (2006) are by far his best, both commercially and critically, with Odds Against being nominated for an Edgar for best novel and both Whip Hand and Come to Grief actually winning.
* * * * *
Francis learned to ride when he was five, on a donkey of all things. The story goes that his older brother bet him sixpence that little dick couldn't jump a fence while sitting backwards on the donkey. It took a few tries, but eventually did it, collecting the wager and earning, as he put it, his "first riding fee."
Francis became an amateur steeplechase rider when he was 26, and two years later began riding as a professional steeplechase jockey, eventually winning more than 350 races. At 36, he retired as a jockey, and became covered racing for the Sunday Express. He published his autobiography, The Sport of Queens, in 1957 and, spurred by the success of that book, he tried his hand at a mystery novel, Dead Cert, which saw print in 1962. He ended up writing over forty mysteries, averaging one a year, until the death of his beloved wife and partner Mary (Margaret Brenchley) in 2000. In fact, 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 her death, it was widely believed that Come to Grief (1995) would be Francis' final novel, but in September 2006 readers were treated to the unexpected appearances of a fourth Halley novel. Under Orders found Francis' series character 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. Plagued by poor health in his later years, Francis had a heart bypass operation in 2006, and had his right leg amputated the following year. But he soldiered on with a new writing partner: his son Felix.
2007 saw the publication of Dead Heat, a new (non-Halley) novel, co-written by Francis and his son Felix. Others soon followed: Silks in 2008, Even Money in 2009 and Crossfire, which was published in 2010, just months after Francis died of natural causes in February 2010 at his retirement home in Grand Cayman, survived by their sons, Felix and Merrick.
2011 saw the release, for the first time, of a novel written soley by Felix, but just in case anyone missed the connection, it was called Dick Francis' Gamble. By all accounts, it turns out Felix is a chip off the old block, although every single one of his books bears his father's name in the actual title. Including a 2013 novel, Dick Francis' Refusal, which brings back Sid Halley......
- "Dick Francis is my favorite author. This is not just from my perspective as a reader, but also from my perspective as a writer. When I sat down to write Chapel of the Ravens, one of my early novels, I literally took a paperback copy of Dick Francis's For Kicks apart in order to study in-depth how Francis structured his plots. Over the years I have returned to Francis time and again for comfort reads and to be inspired as a writer by the incredibly easy flow of his narrative."
-- Paul Bishop, from a post to DorothyL, November 1999
- Dead Cert (1962; Alan York, jockey)
- Nerve (1964; Rob Finn, jockey)
- For Kicks (1965; Daniel Roke, stud farm owner)
- Odds Against (1965; Sid Halley, ex-jockey/private detective) . Buy this book
- Flying Finish (1966; Henry Grey, amateur jockey/air transport )
- Blood Sport (1967; Gene Hawkins, agent)
- Forfeit (1969; James Tyrone, racing reporter)
- Enquiry (1969; Kelly Hughes, jockey)
- Rat Race (1971; Matt Shore, pilot)
- Bonecrack (1971; Neil Griffon, stable owner )
- Smokescreen (1972; Edward Lincoln, actor - South Africa)
- Slayride (1973; David Cleveland, private investigator) .. Buy this book
- Knockdown (1974; Jonah Dereham, ex-jockey/horse buyer)
- High Stakes (1975; Steven Scott, inventor) . Buy this book
- In the Frame (1976; Charles Todd, artist)
- Risk (1977; Roland Britten, accountant )
- Trial Run (1978; Randall Drew, ex-jockey - Moscow)
- Whip Hand (1979; Sid Halley, ex-jockey/private detective).. Buy this book
- Reflex (1981; Philip Nore, jockey ) .. Buy this book
- Twice Shy (1982; Jonathan Derry, physicist)
- Banker (1982; Tim Ekaterin, investment banker)
- The Danger (1984; Andrew Douglas, kidnapping expert) . Buy this book . Kindle it!
- Proof (1985; Tony Beach, wine merchant)
- Break In (1986; Kit Fielding, jockey )
- Bolt (1986; Kit Fielding, jockey )
- Hot Money (1987; Ian Pembroke, jockey)
- The Edge (1988; Tor Kelsey, security agent - transcontinental train, Canada)
- Straight (1989; Derek Franklin, jockey)
- Longshot (1990; John Kendall, travel guide writer)
- Comeback (1991; Peter Darwin, British first secretary - Miami, Florida)
- Driving Force (1992; Freddie Croft, horse transporter)
- Decider (1993; Lee Morris, architect)
- Wild Horses (1994; Thomas Lyon, filmmaker)
- Come to Grief (1995; Sid Halley, ex-jockey/private detective). Buy this book
- To the Hilt (1996; painter)
- 10 lb. Penalty (1997; Ben Juliard, steeplechaser)
- Second Wind (1999). Buy this book
- Shattered (2000)...Buy this book
- Under Orders (2006; Sid Halley, ex-jockey/private detective)...Buy this book...Kindle it!
- Co-written with Felix Francis
- Dead Heat (2007; Max Moreton, chef)...Buy this book
- Silks (2008; Geoffrey Mason, barrister)...Buy this book...Kindle it!
- Even Money (2009; Ned Talbot, bookie)...Buy this book...Kindle it!
- Crossfire (2010; Captain Tom Forsyth, Afghan vet)...Buy this book...Kindle it!
- Written by Felix Francis
- Dick Francis' Gamble (2011; ex-jockey Nick Foxton)...Buy this book...Kindle it!
- Dick Francis' Bloodline (2012; TV announcer Mark Shillingford). Buy this book. Kindle it!
- Dick Francis' Refusal (2013; Sid Halley). Buy this book. Kindle it!
- Dick Francis' Damage (2014; investigator Jeff Hinkley)...Buy this book...Kindle it!
- "Carrot for a Chestnut" (January 5, 1970, Sports Illustrated)
- "The Big Story," (May 7, 1973, Sports Illustrated; aka "A Day of Wine and Roses")
- "The Gift" (1973)
- "Nightmare" (1974, The Times)
- "Raid at Kingdom Hill" (1975)
- "The Day of the Losers" (February 1977, Horse and Hound)
- "Bright White Star" (1979, Chesire Life)
- "Twenty-One Good Men and True" (1979, Verdict of Thirteen: A Detection Club Anthology; aka "Blind Chance")
- "Spring Fever" (1980, Women's Own)
- "Dead on Red"
- "Song for Mona"
- "Collision Course"
- "Haig's Death"
- The Sport of Queens (1957)
- Dick Francis: A Racing Life (1999)
- The Dick Francis Companion (2003; by Jean Swanson and Dean James)....Buy this book
- DEAD CERT
(1974, United Artists/Woodfall Film Productions)
Based on the novel by Dick Francis
Screenplay by John Oaksey and Tony Richardson
Directed by Tony Richardson
Produced by Neil Hartley
Starring Scott B. Anthony as Alan York
Also starring Judi Dench, Michael Williams, Nina Thomas, Mark Digham, Julian Glover, Joseph Blatchley, John Bindon, Dervis Ward, Ian Hogg.
- THE RACING GAME
(1978, Yorkshire Television)
Based on characters created by Dick Francis
Starring Mike Gwilym as SID HALLEY
and Mick Ford as CHICO BARNES
- THE DICK FRANCIS MYSTERIES
(1989, Comedia Entertainment Inc/Raidio Teilifis Eireann)
Based on the novels by Dick Francis
Executive producers: Dennis E. Doty and Jacky Stoller
Starring Ian McShane as DAVID CLEVELAND
DVD & VIDEOS
3-cassette set, comprising three episodes of television series.
3-cassette set, comprising remaining three episodes of television series
Two-DVD set comprising entire run.
Includes all three David Cleveland movies: Bloodsport, In the Frame and Twice Shy.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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