This is in the nature of a love letter, appropriately written on Valentine’s Day, to honor the memory of Dick Francis, one of my favorite writers. Maybe it’s that we shared a birthday or that his having written essentially one mystery/thriller book per year for the last 40 years simply guaranteed him a constant presence in my life but I’d grown very fond of his protagonist, no matter his name, his profession, or the amount of trouble in which he was reliably embroiled.
If it is generally accepted that you write what you know, then the elemental Dick Francis represented in the jockey, banker, painter, horse breeder, reporter, pilot, carpenter, and various investigators (among others) was a decent and resourceful man; indeed, always the same man, and I recognized and fell in love with him in every book. Aside from four books featuring Sid Halley, a champion jockey turned private investigator, no other character has appeared in more than two, and for most, just the one. Nevertheless, reflecting Mr. Francis’ early years as a champion jockey and jockey to the Queen Mother, they all have in common some tangential link to a racetrack, even if they never deal with racing itself. The overall effect was to create a complex impression of the rarely seen people and professions that keep the racing world functioning smoothly, including all the things that can go wrong despite the best efforts of all. Readers, over the course of Mr. Francis’ novels, will also gain insight into the life of a jockey, made three-dimensional by views as various as those from the banker who handles the debts, the vet who cares for the horses, and the painter who immortalises the winner, to name a few. It is also a life of pain from frequent, sometimes horrific, injury and these novels are filled with violence to either man or beast or both.
Every protagonist, like the man who imagined him, must overcome obstacles not always of his own making. That he does so with class, intelligence, and honor, even when he is at his most sorely tried, is a tribute to both character and author and a lesson in resiliency for us all.