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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 the Queen Mother. His most famous race was a loss; in the 1956 Grand National he had a five-length lead going into the home stretch, only for his horse to unexpectedly jump and fall on its stomach. 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 other novels after Dick Francis's death in 2010.


For his work, Dick Francis was honoured by both the Crime Writers Association (Britan) and the Mystery Writers of America.

Works by Dick Francis provide examples of:

  • 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 break on going down a hill and one of the casualties was involved in a criminal operation that the police take advantage of his death to come down on. The villains mother in Come to Grief commits suicide early in the book.
  • Amoral Afrikaner: The Big Bad and The Dragon in Forfeit. Smokescreen averts this, as while it is set in South Africa and the racial politics of the region are critically discussed a few times the criminal is a foreigner and not a native of the country.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 to.
    • 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 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.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: In the short story Haig's Death, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 on how to keep your employer from getting kidnapped.
    • Owen in High Stakes is a workplace helper for a toy inventor 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. One good example is Evan, the arrogant director in Smokescreen, who forces Nash to go through a lot of uncomfortable filming partially to satisfy a petty grudge, but becomes Fire-Forged Friends with him 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 kindly 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 Ib 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 whose been Killing the horses although 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 UK law, but this doesn’t stop the Jockey Club (who essentially are UK horse racing) 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.
  • 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 of these, often in the role of a Big Bad or a Red Herring.
  • 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).
  • 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 "Sleigh Ride." A murder victim leaves behind a pregnant wife but she gets beaten up by the villains, searching for evidence, a couple weeks later and has a miscarriage.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Felix Francis books, written by his son under the Dick Francis brand. Also the works of John Francome, 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 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.
  • 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 snuck 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 Nazi's 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 whose 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 in 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 at one point 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.
  • 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 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.

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