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Creator / Dick Francis

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"Crime to many is not crime but simply a way of life. If laws are inconvenient, ignore them, they don't apply to you."

Richard Stanley Francis CBE (31 October 1920 – 14 February 2010), better known as Dick Francis, was a British crime novelist whose works invariably had some connection with Horse Racing. Prior to becoming an author, Francis had himself been a successful jockey — winning 350 races, most notably on horses owned by HM the Queen Mother. However, his most famous race was a loss; in the 1956 Grand National on Devon Loch, he had a five-length lead going into the home stretch, only for the horse to unexpectedly jump in the air and fall on its stomach note . After retiring from racing, he took up writing, initially with his autobiography. His first novel was published in 1962, following which he wrote a novel a year for the next 38 years.


The influence of his wife Mary (nee Brenchley) on his writing has been argued to be quite large — Francis himself described their efforts as teamwork. Works written after Mary's death in 2000 arguably suffered in quality. Francis also wrote four novels with his son, Felix Francis, who went on to publish novels under his own name after Dick's death in 2010.

For his work, Dick Francis was honoured by both the Crime Writers' Association and the Mystery Writers of America; one of his novels (Whip Hand) won the former's Gold Dagger, and three (Forfeit, Whip Hand, Come to Grief) won the latter's Edgar Award.


Works by Dick Francis provide examples of:

  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: Sometimes at play. For example, part of the plot of Straight revolves around an electronic organiser called a Wizard which, while obviously dated to modern readers due to it not being a smartphone, is seemingly ahead of its time for a novel that was published in 1989. However, the first model of the Sharp Wizard (one of the earliest electronic organisers) did indeed first go on sale in that year. The use of an iron lung to treat a polio victim in Forfeit (published in 1968) may well come across as an example of this to modern readers.
  • Always Murder: Averted — there are lots of significant non-murders in the books, often to provide a Plot-Triggering Death.
    • Derry Welfram from The Edge, is an enforcer of the Big Bad who dies of an ordinary coronary while being followed in the hopes of leading the jockey club to incriminating evidence.
    • The events of Proof are set into motion when several people are killed by a car without a parking brake on going down a hill. One of the casualties was involved in a criminal operation so the police take advantage of his death to come down on.
    • The narrator's brother in Straight dies at the start following an accident.
    • The villain's mother in Come to Grief commits suicide early in the book.
  • Amoral Afrikaner: The Big Bad and The Dragon in Forfeit. Smokescreen averts this; while it is set in South Africa and the racial politics of the region are critically discussed a few times, the villain is not a native of that country.
  • Arab Oil Sheikh: Proof features an unnamed oil-rich Arabian prince interested in horse races. The narrator (a bartender) avoids interacting with him due to expecting that the Sheikh will express virulent disapproval of his work in the alcohol business. Other characters who do interact with the Sheikh describe him as a Fat Bastard and Straw Misogynist who looks down on everyone and is so paranoid about assassination that he makes his three armed bodyguards stand at his side in the dentist's office. He dies in a random car accident early in the book.
  • Artificial Limbs: Sid Halley is sporting one in Come to Grief. In a later novel, Thomas Forsyth in Crossfire has an artificial foot as a result of injuries sustained while serving in Afghanistan.
  • The Bartender: Tony Beach in Proof.
  • Cool Horse: Appears less frequently than one would think. Sandcastle (Banker) is an exception.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Lord Gowrey. is a complicated example in Enquiry., in that it isn't his own lies that he's trying to believe, but when he's blackmailed into turning an enquiry over an honest mistake into a Kangaroo Court, he at first resists, then pounces on the first (falsified) evidence that he finds, convincing himself that it's true so he can give in to the blackmailer without persecuting someone he knows is innocent.
  • 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.
  • Creepy Uncle: In Wild Horses, Jackson Wells reveals that his daughter is not immune to the sinister sexual intentions of his brother (who once tried to have an orgy with Jackson's first wife).
    Jackson: Ridley disgusts me but Lucy still thinks he's a laugh, which won't last much longer as he'd have his hand up her skirt by now except that I've told her always to wear jeans[.]
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Several villains. In High Stakes for instance at the end the protagonist tells his (grossly corrupt) former trainer that with his talent, he could have made a fortune anyway by being honest with him, and encouraging repeat business rather than cooking the books to increase fees and rigging race after race, pointing out that he traded all of that for more short-term money and the ruination of his career. Unsurprisingly, this goes right over the trainer's head.
  • Dead to Begin With: Greville Franklin, narrator Derek's brother in Straight, is unconscious and dying as a result of an accident at the beginning. Also, George Millace in Reflex.
  • 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.
  • Doomed Predecessor:
    • For Kicks has the narrator hired to investigate some suspected chicanery at horse races, after a previous outside investigator (a racing journalist) died in a car accident. As the events of the novel continue, he begins to realize that it probably wasn't a car accident. After being captured by the villains, he (truthfully) tells that that he's told someone else about what he found, and that killing him won't save them, but they reply that the previous man said the same thing (untruthfully) to try and save his life, so they think he's lying too.
    • Flying Finish has a rare example where the doomed predecessor actually appears for a while and interacts with the narrator before suffering this fate. One of the narrators coworkers mysteriously disappears while on an overseas flight, raising his suspicions about what's going on. Later, after being kidnapped, he finds a message that very coworker scratched into the wall while being held prisoner, and when they try to make him Dig Your Own Grave, he finds his friends murdered body at the bottom of the grave, and would have been buried with him if he hadn't escaped.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Kit Fielding's real name is "Christmas" (he and his twin Holly having been born on December 25th). No wonder he prefers to go by "Kit".
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Inverted with quite a few of the jockey characters. For example, most people who meet Kit Fielding (the narrator of Break In and Bolt) 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.
  • Extruded Book Product: A minor example — since Dick's death in 2010, his son Felix (who was credited as a co-writer for Dick's last four novels) has written novels in the same style at a rate of one a year, usually with the subtitle "A Dick Francis Novel".
  • 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.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: In the short story "Haig's Death" (which can be found in Field of 13, Dick's only short story collection), Jasper Billington Innes is about to drive his car into a tree, when turning on the car lets him hear a message from his wife on his car phone that most of the problems that had been plaguing him have been resolved, causing him to abruptly change his mind.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Inverted in the endings of For Kicks and Proof, where the respective narrator and Deuteragonist are caught by the villains. Without being prompted, each man truthfully claims that other people know where he is and who he suspects. Both times, the villains think that it's just a self-preserving lie.
  • Hero of Another Story: Two of colleagues of the anti-kidnapping expert protagonist in The Danger are in South America, negotiating for the release of an oil executive whose kidnapping they believe was an inside job. It's never revealed who was behind that kidnapping or whether they get the executive back safely.
  • 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.
  • I Remember Because...: In Break In, When Kit decides to use the past misdeeds of a Corrupt Corporate Executive to enact some Laser-Guided Karma, he recalls how he earlier heard a brief list of companies the man took advantage of. He only remembers the name of one of those companies (Purfleet Electronics), and only because he once spent a vacation in the town of Purfleet.
  • The Jeeves:
    • Thomas, the chauffeur from Break In and its sequel Bolt is a polite, intelligently-spoken man who is fiercely loyal to his employer, willing to help threaten the Big Bad of the later book and mentions that he once took a course about methods to keep your employer from getting kidnapped.
    • Owen in High Stakes is a workplace helper for a toy inventor rather than a butler or valet, but he fills this role a bit with a sense of unassuming, soft-spoken loyalty.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: quite often, as Francis enjoys Character Development. A good example is Evan, the arrogant movie director in Smokescreen, who forces the narrator (an actor in the film he's making) to go through a lot of discomfort during filming. This is partially done to satisfy a petty grudge, although the two become Fire-Forged Friends by the end.
  • Karma Houdini: depressingly often, for the sake of realism. The Big Bad of Flying Finish, and several of his henchmen presumably escape to a non-extradition country, despite being responsible for at least three murders, and feeling little remorse. The villains of the first two Sid Halley books get off with slaps on the wrist. The Dragon of Slay Ride is still at large at the end of the novel despite having, among other things, beaten a pregnant woman to the point of causing a miscarriage. None of the Never My Fault, Smug Snake villains of Risk are arrested after delivering a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to the hero, and embezzling quite a bit of money. On the other hand, he's just as likely to choose Pay Evil unto Evil.
  • 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 kind to four-legged creatures, and less sympathetic to humans. One or two also subvert this and are revealed to be villainous characters.
  • Kissing Cousins: Nerve, in an mostly unrequited fashion. Mostly.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: The Big Bad of Dead Cert is overpowered, told that the police are about to arrive and have evidence against him, and that he'll very likely be hanged, while his family will suffer disgrace, then is left alone with his pistol and explicitly told it will be quicker. He uses it as the police pull up outside.
  • The Man Behind the Man:
    • Political advisor A.L. Wyvern in 10-lb Penalty aspires to be this in the highest-echelons of British politics, desiring power without responsibility.
    • In The Edge early on there is talk about an immensely corrupt racing stable, the owner of which was warned off for life, with certain events causing the jockey club to wonder if their current nemesis, Julius Apollo Filmer might have been involved with that racket but escaped detection. They are correct, and use it to warn him off in addition to the criminal charges he faces at the end.
    • In Forfeit it is clear that shady bookmaker Charlie Boston is working to do a bit of race-rigging, but also becomes clear that he himself has a superior sticking to the shadows, the mysterious Mr. Vjoersterod.
    • In Comeback the narrator comes into conflict with some corrupt fellow bloodstock agents, but eventually comes to suspect that their leader isn't the real mastermind and that someone else in their circle of acquaintances is pulling the strings while remaining above suspicion. He's right.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Forfeit (racing columnist, which Francis was for years); Longshot.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Happens now and then, such as in the short story "Dead on Red" when the crony who helped the villain arrange the assassination finds his admiration for said villain slowly dissipating and realizes that deep down he liked the man he helped kill.
  • 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.
  • Not Me This Time: In Bolt the main villain of the story is behind a lot of things, including attempted murder, but he wasn't the one who's been killing the horses. Unusually for this trope, he actually does try to take credit for that, rather than deny it, due to feeling it would make him seem more serious and threatening towards his enemies.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Happens with the main villains of several books, such as Forfeit, Rat Race and, Decider, suffering horrible deaths, others suffering humiliating arrests and/or ruinations, and, in his most graphic example of this trope, one Big Bad even being inadvertently castrated (his testicles are surgically amputated as the result of a severe Groin Attack from the Sidekick). Even some books where the Big Bad pulls a Karma Houdini, such as Flying Finish, have The Dragon get killed.
  • Persona Non Grata: In some books, there is insufficient evidence against the bad guys for prosecution under Brtish law. However, this does not stop the Jockey Club (who essentially ran British horse racing at the time when Francis was writing) from "warning off" the offenders, meaning they are banned from any establishment, racecourse or other facility licensed by the club and other members of the club are not permitted to associate with them, essentially de facto banning them from the entire sport, industry and culture as a punishment for their actions.
  • Practically Different Generations: In Straight, Derek Franklin is over twenty years younger than his brother Greville and was born after their parents retired and gave up the lifestyle Greville was raised in.
    By the time I was born, he was away at university, building a life of his own. By the time I was six, he had married, by the time I was ten, he'd divorced.
  • Psychic Powers: Kit Fielding and his twin sister (Break In, Bolt) share a telepathic bond.
  • Psycho for Hire: several appear throughout his books, such as Billy in Flying Finish and the railway saboteur in The Edge.
  • The Resenter: It would be difficult to name a book which doesn't have at least one obsessively resentful character, often in the role of a Big Bad or a Red Herring.
  • Sad Clown: In Nerve, one of the victims of Malicious Slander is always joking "like Pagliacci" in a failed attempt to act unperturbed.
  • 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, jeweller in Straight, film-making in Smokescreen and Wild Horses, and so forth). Dick's wife Mary did plenty of research, at one point gaining a pilot's licence.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: On several occasions, the main character might have died and/or lost to the Big Bad if not for the action of a minor character, such as a mine employee in Smokescreen insisting that he hadn't noticed Ed Lincoln leaving the mine, prompting a search which saved his life after he'd been left in there to die. Or Badass Bystander Jacek. in Dead Heat who kills a murderous henchman with a fish filleter (while being shot in the shoulder himself) during the climax.
  • Sidekick: Tick-Tock, in Nerve, qualifies, almost to the point of Plucky Comic Relief. So does the hired detective in To The Hilt.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Calder Jackson in Banker.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Tragically subverted in Slay Ride. A murder victim leaves behind a pregnant wife but she gets beaten up by the villains while searching for evidence a couple of weeks later, and suffers a miscarriage.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Felix Francis books, written by his son under the Dick Francis brand. Also the works of John Francombe, another jockey turned racing themed thriller writer.
  • Starving Artist: Subverted in Shattered, where Gerry Logan does quite well at his business. Played straight in Longshot (up to and including the leaking garret), while in To the Hilt and In the Frame, the artists live unconventional lives but are far from financially strapped. In contrast to these is Reflex, where the art (photography) is purely a hobby for Philip Nore.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: To an extent, James Tyrone in Forfeit — although it helps that he's the narrator and so can justify his actions directly to the reader.
  • Tap on the Head: Generally averted - characters who are knocked out wake up disoriented and in pain.
  • This Explains So Much: The short story "A Song for Mona" features the eponymous stable worker and her social-climbing Antagonistic Offspring daughter Joanie, who obsessively tries to cut Mona out of her life and keep people from knowing about her origins. At the end of the story, Mona's friends find a newspaper article mentioning that Joanie's father was convicted of child rape when she was ten (whether she was his victim is unclear) and comment "This explains a lot."
  • Villainous BSoD: Quite a few of the villains undergo them but standouts include Uncle George in Dead Cert who, as the hero eludes his men (and has sneaked into his base) goes into a bloodthirsty rant screaming for them to find and kill him, and Julius Filmer, from The Edge'' who is described as turning gray and heavily sweating for several minutes as the Jockey Club reveal the mountain of evidence they've gathered against him, which will be enough to see him banned for life, and sent to jail for a long time.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Several of them, although there are many the heroes know about from the start.
    • Maurice Kemp-Lorre in Nerve is seen as a dazzling TV personality and great sport and racing authority, but makes a habit of completely destroying the careers of up-coming jockeys out of simple spite and jealousy.
    • The villain of Slay Ride is a minor national hero due to having been a resistance fighter against the Nazis as a young man.
    • Vic Vincent in Knockdown is considered a very talented, charming and scrupulous bloodstock agent by all of his clients, the general public and plenty of trainers, but is always looking to scam some extra money out of his clients and sabotage competitors. His secret employer Pauli Teskla fits this even better, as Vic's fellow agents at least mostly recognize him for who he is, while Pauli is considered as generally scrupulous and above suspicion.
    • Snake Oil Salesman and multiple murderer Calder Jackson in Banker.
    • Maynard Allardeck from Break In and Bolt is seen as a fair and generous racing authority when really he's a Corrupt Corporate Executive and obsessive Social Climber who has an unhealthy vendetta against the Fielding's, loves to sabotage them and tries to goad his own son into killing someone.
    • Julius Apollo Filmer is seen as pleasant social company and just another horse owner by his peers, while the Jockey Club knows him as a man who blackmails and threatens people to get great horses and will kill if his social position is threatened.
    • Carey Hewett in Comeback is seen as a benevolent figure and archetypal Kindly Vet plagued by misfortune when he's really a cold-blooded schemer who's been murdering animals as part of an Insurance Fraud scam, and is remorselessly willing to ruin the livelihoods and end the lives of people who see him as a friend in order to cover his tracks.
    • In Driving Force Tigwood is seen as a jerk by people, but is respected as a charitable man who provides a valuable service. In fact he sadistically relishes destroying both horses and people.
    • In Come to Grief, Ellis Quint is a well-liked TV show host and ex-jockey who charms everyone around him and does some nice human interest stuff on his TV show. He also has violent urges that lead him to amputate the feet of living horses (which he also covers on his show to get higher ratings) and beat up a man investigating him. although does ultimately draw the line at murder and save the life of a man investigating him at the end of the day.
    • The killer in Under Orders is seen as a pleasant amateur rider and aristocrat.
    • Oliver Chadwick in Crisis is considered to be a pillar of society and renowned trainer, but he allowed his sons to sexually abuse his daughter for years, and covered it up while at the same time blackmailing them into doing whatever he wanted with that information.
  • Wanted a Son Instead: In Hot Money, one of the narrator's sisters-in-law wants a son badly, resents her two daughters, and is driving her husband to the edge of suicide by bullying him over having a vasectomy before they could conceive a third kid.
  • What You Are in the Dark: In Knockdown, the Big Bad is knocked unconscious in a fight with the narrator and lies helpless. The narrator has a perfect opportunity to kill the man who has tried to ruin his livelihood and just killed his brother, and can easily make it look like he inflicted the fatal blow in self-defence during the struggle. Instead, he restrains the villain, calls the police, and then cries as the Bittersweet Ending sets in for him.
  • Worthless Foreign Degree: One minor character in Dead Heat is a pot scrubber from the Czech Republic who eventually turns out to have been an actual chef back home and is promoted to this job again after saving his bosses life at the end.
  • Write What You Know: Francis was a top horse racing jockey in the 1950s. All his books have some sort of link to horse racing.