Authors: Dick Francis

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Welsh novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Dead Cert, 1962

Nerve, 1964

For Kicks, 1965

Odds Against, 1965

Flying Finish, 1966

Blood Sport, 1967

Forfeit, 1968

Enquiry, 1969

Rat Race, 1970

Bonecrack, 1971

Smokescreen, 1972

Slayride, 1973

Knockdown, 1974

High Stakes, 1975

In the Frame, 1976

Risk, 1977

Trial Run, 1978

Whip Hand, 1979

Reflex, 1980

Twice Shy, 1981

Banker, 1982

The Danger, 1983

Proof, 1984

Break In, 1985

Bolt, 1986

Hot Money, 1987

The Edge, 1988

Straight, 1989

Longshot, 1990

Comeback, 1991

Driving Force, 1992

Decider, 1993

Wild Horses, 1994

Come to Grief, 1995

To the Hilt, 1996

Ten-pound Penalty, 1997

Second Wind, 1999

Shattered, 2000

Short Fiction:

Field of Thirteen, 1998

Screenplay:

Dead Cert, 1974 (adaptation of his novel)

Nonfiction:

The Sport of Queens: The Autobiography of Dick Francis, 1957, revised 1968, 1974, 1982

A Jockey’s Life: A Biography of Lester Piggott, 1986

Edited Texts:

Best Racing and Chasing Stories, 1966-1969 (with John Welcome)

The Racing Man’s Bedside Book, 1969 (with Welcome)

The Dick Francis Treasury of Great Racing Stories, 1990 (with Welcome)

Classic Lines: More Great Racing Stories, 1991 (with Welcome; also known as The New Treasury of Great Racing Stories)

Biography

Dick Francis had pursued a fulfilling career as a jockey, had written his autobiography, and had commenced a successful life as a racing correspondent for the London Sunday Express before he wrote his first novel. Since the publication of that novel, when he was forty-two years old, he has become one of the world’s most prolific and successful writers of mystery fiction and one of the small cadre of those practitioners who command the respect of literary critics.{$I[AN]9810001180}{$I[A]Francis, Dick}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Francis, Dick}{$I[geo]WALES;Francis, Dick}{$I[tim]1920;Francis, Dick}

Born Richard Stanley Francis, he was the son of George Vincent and Molly Thomas Francis. His father had returned from service in World War I to use his skill with horses first at Bishop’s hunting stables and then in the position he held for most of Dick Francis’s childhood, as manager of W. J. Smith’s Hunting Stables at Holyport. The future jockey was thus reared in an environment in which horses played a large role. He attended the Maidenhead County School, leaving in his mid-teens to work with horses. In 1940 he enlisted in the air force after having been denied entry into the cavalry. He became a pilot and served until 1946.

Returning to civilian life, he became an amateur steeplechase jockey, earning experience and achieving growing success. Francis became a professional jockey in 1948, a year after he married Mary Brenchley. He became one of England’s most celebrated riders, achieving the status of Champion Jockey in 1954 and having the privilege of riding the Queen Mother’s horses in National Hunt races. A celebrated fall when he was on the verge of winning the Grand National in 1956 led to his decision to write his autobiography, The Sport of Queens.

Francis began writing weekly articles on the British racing scene for the London Sunday Express in 1957. He continued to write for the Sunday Express for sixteen years, but in 1961 he was persuaded by his wife to try his hand at a novel. Francis and his wife had always enjoyed mysteries, so it seemed natural for him to write a mystery set in the world of horse racing. Dead Cert was an immediate success and was soon followed by other mystery novels.

The plots of most of Francis’s books continue to deal with racing, but he has managed to include other interests as well. Readers find themselves learning about photography, gold mining, and guard agencies. The Edge takes place during a trans-Canada train ride on which the passengers participate in a mystery tour production as they journey from racetrack to racetrack. Integrating little-known information about its subjects is one of the hallmarks of a Francis novel. His wife was a full partner in the researching of his novels, and after her death in 2000, Francis revealed that she had also been heavily involved in writing them as well. In his autobiography he explains how she learned to paint in oils as they worked on In the Frame and became a semiprofessional photographer after the publication of Reflex.

Francis, like most mystery writers, pits good against evil in a context in which the eventual triumph of good can be assumed by the reader. In his early work this victory often came after considerable physical violence. There are broken bones on and off racetracks, and tortured flesh and brutal beatings are commonplace. In his later work, however, heroism was defined less in terms of endurance of pain and physical triumph. Francis began to delve more deeply into the character of his protagonists, into what makes some people good and others evil. Often the novel begins with an injustice–in The Edge, for example, Julius Filmer is acquitted of conspiracy to murder when one witness dies and others change their minds about testifying–and the novel traces the efforts of the hero to see that ultimately justice is served. While a few characters appear in more than one novel, Francis preferred to write about different characters rather than build a series around one heroic figure.

Along with his progression into subtler character analysis, Francis grew more proficient in his depiction of the physical environment in which his stories take place. He still was at his best, however, in dealing with the world of racing, and he will probably always be remembered best for his ability to immerse his readers in the sights, smells, sounds, and characters of the track. His continuing interest in racing was reflected in his 1986 biography of English jockey Lester Piggott and in the fact that he continued to judge in English horse shows into the 1980’s. In 1997 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Francis died of natural causes on February 14, 2010 in Grand Cayman.

BibliographyBarnes, 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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