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A brief look at one readers’ experience with a master of mystery storytelling who went from being a champion jockey to a prolific writer.
Growing up in a house with a thousand books, I reached my sixteenth year and was introduced to the mystery novel by my mother via a Dick Francis novel. I loved reading, and this paperback had both intrigue and suspense. I approached it hesitantly, but found it a page turner.
Wanting more when I came to the last page, I read every Francis volume I could beg, buy or borrow. The protagonist was usually a quiet and self-effacing, if imperfect hero. There was usually a pretty lady, and always a criminal plot to expose with villains to defeat. The plot invariably included horse racing, but always a different twist on the formula that fascinated. The tales of semi-precious stone collectors, painters, wine merchants, bankers, computer programmers, and more, all incorporated jockeys, horses, horse owners, or trainers. Most of the heroes were loners. Many were single men , a few married and at least one divorced. Whether orphans, or children of privilege who had scorned their lofty place for the freedom of anonymity, they held a fascination for me.
Francis was the Queen Mother’s jockey, who retired shortly after a particularly bad fall in the Grand National when riding the Queen’s horse. He did not want to be known as the jockey who lost that race, so he, with much help from his late wife Mary, embarked on a new career path in which he wrote 42 novels of mystery involving horse racing.
Mysteries were a part of my formative reading years, and in that genre, Francis was my favorite. Now that he has passed on, one of his sons, Felix Francis, carries the torch with more of his father’s tales set down by the next generation. These stories were diverting and entertaining for me, if predominantly too violent. I liked them because the protagonist always persevered to triumph over evil.
(Recommended for mature readers)