Sunday, February 14, 2010

Good always triumphed in the end

British sources are reporting that Dick Francis, one of my favorite mystery authors, has died. I have, I think, read all of his mysteries, and return especially to the early ones. He has been the source of many pleasurable hours.

The BBC:
Writer Dick Francis, famous for his horse racing-based crime novels, has died aged 89, his family has said.

Francis, who wrote more than 40 best-selling novels during his career, was also a champion jockey in the 1940s and 50s and the Queen Mother's jockey.

He first published his autobiography in 1957, and his first thriller, Dead Cert, followed five years later. .... [more]
In its Francis obituary, the Telegraph describes what made the books so appealing to thriller readers like me:
.... Where other thriller writers probed the darker crannies of the soul, Francis reaffirmed the values of human decency and the struggle between the man of good against the forces of lust for power, dishonesty and greed. Heroes can expect to be chained, beaten, burned or flayed two or three times per book – but good always triumphs in the end.

Francis possessed all the traditional tools of the thriller writer's trade – narrative urgency and a subtlety in intellectual problem-solving – but he combined these with an emotional realism which had eluded writers like Agatha Christie. No one could convey as well as he what it felt like to be drowned, hanged, crushed by a horse or soaked in icy water and left dangling, gagged and bound from a hook in the middle of a Norfolk winter's night. He also had a minute eye for detail and an ability to take even the most un-horsey of readers into his world. He was as convincing in his portrayal of the spartan existence of the stable lad as he was in that of the sybaritic lifestyle of the manipulating owner in his home counties pad: "Not to read Dick Francis because you don't like horses," remarked one reviewer in Newsweek, "is like not reading Dostoyevsky because you don't believe in God." ....

.... After a particularly bad fall at Leicester in 1957, he took the advice of the Queen's trainer, Lord Abergavenny, that he should give up while he was still at the top and retired from professional racing. ....

In 1960, with his wife's encouragement, he turned his hand to a novel. The result, Dead Cert, was published two years later to respectful praise. By the time his second novel, Nerve, came out in 1964 the reviewers were beginning to suggest that he looked good for many more winners.

Francis picked up ideas for his novels in his travels round the world's racecourses. The idea for Slay Ride (1973), for example, came to him when he was in Oslo for the Norwegian Grand National in 1972. It was a small and charming course with a pond in the middle – "Just the place to find a body", Francis remarked – and the book was all about a corpse discovered in the pond at the Oslo racecourse. .... [more]
He wrote a book a year, the most recent in collaboration with his son.

[The book covers are from copies I own.]

BBC News - Author Dick Francis dies aged 89, Dick Francis - Telegraph