Sunday, November 5, 2023

Dick Francis

Dick Francis was one of my favorite mystery/thriller writers. I read his books one after another in a summer in the late 70s, and then bought as many as I could find. Today Five Books published an interview with his son, Felix, about his selection for the "best" five Dick Francis books. The interview is as much about his father, Dick Francis, as about the books. Felix Francis:
.... My father didn’t start being a jockey until he was twenty-six, because he’d spent six years in the Royal Air Force during the war. He started off as an airframe fitter and was sent out to the Western desert in Egypt. Then, he was trained as a pilot. He flew Spitfires, Wellington bombers, and Lancasters. He flew Wellingtons off a little-known Northamptonshire airfield called RAF Silverstone, which they then converted into the Grand Prix circuit.

He always said that riding horses over Becher’s Brook in the Grand National was quite dangerous, but at least no one was shooting at him. The danger of flying Wellington bombers over Germany on bombing raids was infinitely greater. ....

Sid Halley makes his first appearance in Odds Against. He was never intended to be a recurring character. My father had no intention of writing about him again, but Yorkshire Television did a series in the late 70s called The Racing Game, and they used Sid Halley as the character. My father suddenly felt that he had to write another Sid Halley book to come out when the TV series aired, so he set about writing Whip Hand. Sid became the first character to have been in two books. ....

In a lot of my father’s (and my) books, you have an investigator who’s an amateur, a reluctant investigator. Sid was a champion jockey, but his hand was very badly injured when a horse landed on it. The horse’s trainer had saved a bit of money by reusing racing plates and that had led to the damage to Sid’s hand. He had to stop riding and didn’t know what to do. He’s offered a job as an advisor at a private detective agency which has a racing section, but Sid doesn’t do much. He sits around the office.

Before long, Sid finds himself involved in an investigation. I love the first line of Odds Against:

“I was never particularly keen on my job before the day I got shot and nearly lost it, along with my life.” Always grab the reader on the first line! People in bookshops read the first page —don’t let them put the book back on the shelf. ....

“The Earl of October drove into my life in a light blue Holden that had seen better days, and danger and death tagged along for the ride.” That’s the first line of For Kicks.

The main character is Daniel Roke. He’s English but he moved to Australia. There is something going on at the Jockey Club (nowadays called the British Horseracing Authority) and they want to bring over someone they know is not involved to investigate. ....

For Kicks was the first book I read of the Dick Francis novels. I was twelve when it was published. I only went back and read the earlier books, like Dead Cert (1962), afterwards. I started with For Kicks, and, as they say, you never forget your first time. .... (more)
The five books are:
  1. Bonecrack
  2. Odds Against
  3. Banker
  4. For Kicks
  5. Forfeit

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