Dick Francis died yesterday, at the age of 89.
Having spent the early part of his life in the rough and tumble world of British steeplechase, as a a jockey, Dick Francis put away his silks at the age of 37, in 1957. He was raised a stablemaster's son, did a stint in the RAF and was a bomber pilot . When he returned to Britain, he won 345 races in 9 years, and his greatest regret was never winning the Grand National. Like many sport heroes, he wrote an autobiography with assistance as his career ended, but 5 years later, in 1962, he came out with the first of 42 (42!) fiction mysteries, all of which featured horses and racing in some type of role. There was formulaic driving his fiction - many of his heroes were loners, all gentlemen (no racy sex scenes in a Francis novel), and all somehow wound up in the middle of trouble or murder that had to be resolved.
Reading a Dick Francis book (and I'm privileged to have read all 42) was like settling down on the sofa for a talk with an old friend. None of his books is very long, and most of them leave you wanting more. His writing partner, for many years, was his wife, Mary, who died in 2000. For a short while, the writing stopped. He released a new book in 2006, and collaborated on two more in 2007 and 2008 with his son, Felix.
If you've never read any Francis, and like the mystery genre, you needn't try to wade through all 42 books... a good short introduction to Francis best is his trilogy featuring Sid Halley (a race investigator), one of the few heroes that Francis ever "brought back" for a follow up. The Halley books are:
"Odds Against" - 1965; nominated for an Edgar
"Whip Hand" - 1979; won the Edgar
"Come to Grief" - 1995; another Edgar winner
My own personal favorite? 1982's "Banker"
I can't tell you how much I will miss my annual Dick Francis fix. RIP to a legend.