Monday, February 15, 2010

Dick Francis, R.I.P.

Not even a month after the death of Robert B. Parker, the world of crime fiction loses another giant with the death Sunday of Dick Francis. The retired jockey, who turned to writing thrillers in his middle thirties, produced a steady stream of books over the next forty-plus years that never failed to entertain.

Most of the books were set in the world of British horse racing that Francis knew and obviously loved so well. Though he only rarely featured the same protagonist from one book to another, virtually all of his heroes shared the same characteristics. Typically they were in their mid-to-late thirties, as Francis was when injuries forced his retirement from racing. Often, like their creator, they were in the midst of some career change that had been forced upon them. They were quiet, modest, but extremely clever and capable men; almost always they were single, and inevitably the right women found them attractive and compelling.

Lurking in the background, and usually exposed only near the end of the book, was a deliciously malevolent villain, pulling strings from behind the curtain in pursuit of some grand scheme that often threatened to inflict gruesome damage on any number of victims and upon the world of horse racing as a whole.

In the end, of course, Francis's hero always exposed and thwarted the evildoer, albeit usually at great personal cost. While Francis's sex scenes were always fairly tame, he wrote great scenes of gut-wrenching violence that could give a reader nightmares for weeks after.

Best of all, Francis's work has stood the test of time, unlike the work of some other writers of his generation that already seems dated and uninteresting. Even now, nearly fifty years after its initial publication, one can pick up his first novel,DEAD CERT, or any of the many that followed and it will seem as fresh and new as it did on the weekend that you first read it.

Dick Francis leaves behind a body of work that will entertain readers for years to come. He will be sorely missed.

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