A 20th century writer of detective fiction. A British citizen, Dick Francis was born in 1920 in Wales. He was a life-long horseman and became a trainer in 1938. After a WWII stint in the Royal Air Force, he returned to the racing world where he was a successful jockey - winning 350 races and riding for the Queen Mother. His most famous race may have been a loss: with a five-length lead in the home stretch of the Grand National, his horse unexpectedly jumped and fell on its stomach
. After retiring from racing, he took up writing, penning a number of novels (and a few short stories.) His earliest works featured a jockey as a protagonist, and while later stories would occasionally branch out, he retained links to the horse world in nearly all his stories.
The influence of his wife (Mary nee Brenchley) on his writing has been argued to be quite large — she was a publisher's reader and also a pilot (Francis also piloted aircraft during WWII). Francis himself described their efforts as teamwork. Works written after Mary's death in 2000 have arguably suffered in quality. Francis also wrote four novels with his son, Felix Francis, who went on to publish other novels after Dick Francis's death in 2010.
For his work, Dick Francis was honored by both the Crime Writers Association (Britan) and the Mystery Writers of America. He was also created a Commander of the British Empire. After publishing his autobiography in 1957, he began publishing mystery novels in 1962, and went on to publish a novel a year for 38 years.
Works by Dick Francis provide examples of:
- Artificial Limbs: Sid Halley is sporting one in Come to Grief.
- The Bartender: Tony Beach in Proof.
- Cool Horse: Appears less frequently than one would think. Sandcastle (Banker) is an exception.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: Appears multiple times, including Decider and Hot Money.
- Born in the Saddle: Multiple characters come from families that fit this trope, as do many supporting characters. Averted, though, in Comeback.
- Determinator: Sid Halley is a prime example, but nearly every single protagonist manages to succeed by sheer teeth-gritting refusal to acknowledge when they are beaten. Terrified? Yes. Expecting failure? Yes. Exhausted and in physical pain? Yep. Aware of their limitations? Certainly. Resigned to eventual defeat? Quite possibly. Going to quit while still breathing? NEVER.
- Embarrassing First Name: Kit Fielding's real name is "Christmas." No wonder he prefers to go by "Kit."
- Expecting Someone Taller: Inverted in Break In. Most people who meet steeplechase jockey Kit Fielding for the first time admit that they were expecting someone shorter. Kit is shorter than average, but he's nowhere near the stereotypical midget most people picture when they think of a jockey.
- Expy: Francis's protagonists are generally moderately humble, down-to-earth, decent men who are quite competent at their trades, who are faced with unexpected difficulties that they eventually work through.
- First Person Smart Ass: Averted, for the most part, even though ALL of his mystery novels are written in first person point-of-view. Snark, where present, is delivered in an understated Brit fashion.
- Horsing Around: While some novels feature a Cool Horse, most stick close to realism - horses bolt, run off, buck, bite, and (quite frequently) throw their riders to the ground, to be stomped on by their herdmates.
- Kindly Vet: Appears frequently, as to be expected in stories involving horse racing - most notably a whole clinic's worth in Comeback. Several are only kindly to four-legged creatures, and less sympathetic to humans.
- Kissing Cousins: Nerve, in an mostly unrequited fashion. Mostly.
- Most Writers Are Writers: Forfeit (racing columnist, which Francis was for years); Longshot.
- Non-Idle Rich: as to be expected with Francis's heroes (see Expy and Determinator) but particularly in Flying Finish, To The Hilt and High Stakes.
- Psychic Powers: Kit Fielding and his twin sister (Break In, Bolt) share a telepathic bond.
- Shown Their Work: Constantly - both in the frequently-appearing racing-centric horse material, and in the details of various trades examined in different books (wine merchant in Proof, pilot in Flying Finish, and so forth).
- Snake Oil Salesman: Calder Jackson in Banker.
- Spiritual Successor: John Francome, another former jockey turned thriller author.
- Sidekick: Tick-Tock, in Nerve, qualifies, almost to the point of Plucky Comic Relief. So does the hired detective in To The Hilt.
- Starving Artist: Subverted in Shattered, where Gerry Logan does quite well at his business. Played straight in Longshot (up to and including the leaking garrett.) In To the Hilt and In the Frame, the artists live unconventional lives, but are far from financially strapped. Contrast with Reflex where the art (photography) is pure hobby.
- Tap on the Head: Generally averted - characters who are knocked out wake up disoriented and in pain.
- Write What You Know: Francis was a top racing jockey for decades. All his books have some sort of link to horse racing.
- Write Who You Know: Abounds throughout the novels - in particular, his sons and their professions inspired Driving Force and Twice Shy.