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Book Author: Dick Francis

DICK FRANCIS: An Appreciation

2009-10 was a sad year for mystery fans.  Dick Francis, Stuart M. Kaminsky, Robert B. Parker, and William G. Tapply all died within the last year.  I’d like to share my thoughts about each, beginning with Dick Francis.  Other columns will follow.

To my mind, Dick Francis was an absolute master.  I’ve ridden horses fewer than a dozen times in my life, including one weekend more than thirty years ago at a dude ranch.  I never was into the “young girl and horses” mania, although that may be because I grew up in Brooklyn and horses were few and far between on my street.  So why would Francis’s books resonate with me, and why did I await each new one so eagerly?

Dick Francis had an incredible knack for letting us into his characters’ minds. Most of his heroes (and yes, they are all men) were basically average men, not tough private investigators or policemen. They were actors (Edward Lincoln in Smokescreen), bookmakers (Ned Talbott in Even Money), chefs (Max Moreton in Dead Heat), glass blowers (Gerald Logan in Shattered) and other occupations not commonly associated with the racing world.  Each man was innocently involved in a criminal event connected to racing, and each had to find not only the solution to the crime but also the personal courage to deal with the situation.  It’s the resourcefulness and integrity of each of Francis’s characters that grabbed me years ago when I first started reading his novels.

Although as I’ve said in other posts on this blog, I prefer mysteries with a recurring character that I can follow, Francis’s books were so well written, so thoughtful, that even though most of his books are stand-alones (only two of his heroes appear in more than one book), I loved every one.  I don’t believe he ever wrote a bad book.  Actually, I don’t think he ever wrote a “good” book; they were all wonderful and I, along with many others, will miss him.

You can read more about Dick Francis at his web site, which is one of the very best sites of any type I’ve ever seen.