Books by Dick Francis

CROSSFIRE by Dick Francis
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Aug. 1, 2010

The late Dick Francis's 44th, and last, canter around the track echoes several of his greatest hits. Read full book review >
EVEN MONEY by Dick Francis
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Aug. 25, 2009

"A blissfully satisfying blend of suspense, revenge and horse-racing info in a multilayered mystery that's presumably Felix Francis's distinctive contribution to his father's legendary series."
The father-and-son Francis team (Silks, 2008, etc.) turn their attention to the most reviled members of the horse-racing fraternity: on-site bookmakers. Read full book review >
SILKS by Dick Francis
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Aug. 26, 2008

"Despite Mason's avocation, the outsider's view of racing takes a back seat to the courtroom sequences. Partnering for the second time with his son, Francis produces a whodunit more accomplished than ever but less distinctive than the work that put him on the map."
What new angles on horse racing are left for veteran Francis (Dead Heat, 2007, etc.) to explore? His latest hero is a barrister who's also a passionate amateur steeplechase jockey. Read full book review >
DEAD HEAT by Dick Francis
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 17, 2007

"Clunky expository dialogue tells you more than you probably want to know about food preparation and concertizing. But the mystery is engaging, and durable Max is a worthy addition to Francis's gallery of racetrack detectives."
Legendary racing-mystery master Francis (Shattered, 2000, etc.) partners with son Felix to bring mayhem of many kinds to the Newmarket track. Read full book review >
RISK by Dick Francis
Released: Aug. 1, 2006

Every Dick Francis steeplechase puts a persecuted narrator-hero through some sort of physical ordeal; this one puts likable Roland Britten through what reads—and it's nonstop reading as always—like one long torture. Roland's an accountant specializing in horseracing clients, but he's also a gifted amateur jockey—and, right after an astonishing Gold Cup win, he's kidnapped, waking up to find himself trussed and stashed in the lower bunk of a small cabin cruiser drifting in the western Mediterranean. He eventually escapes and gets back to London (aided by a gutsy spinster whom he graciously deflowers on request)—only to be grabbed again and sealed up in a truck. Obviously, someone's intent on keeping Roland out of circulation. Is it the race-fixing manager of the horse he rides? Or an embezzling client? Or. . . ? More zippy ordeals ensue before Roland learns the dispiriting truth, and only a few spoilsports will look past the breathtaking narrative dash to notice that—notwithstanding the nifty relationship between Roland and spinster Hilary—this is not only the fastest Francis ever, but perhaps the emptiest. Read full book review >
KNOCKDOWN by Dick Francis
Released: March 7, 2006

If the word horsedealer has any rotten connotations it will have come by them honestly, or rather dishonestly, since Dick Francis' new book is all about buying and selling racehorses — a world in which bloodstock agent (the British term) Jonah Dereham is the exception. In fact, in an attempt to crowd him out he's viciously attacked twice, his best horse is let loose, and finally his stable is burned. But there's a nice girl, as well as Jonah's alcoholic brother, who comes through in the crunch, to raise the personal stakes. Post time's right now. Read full book review >
SHATTERED by Dick Francis
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 11, 2000

"So many crooks and crimes this time that you'll need a racing form to sort them out. But Francis, though well below his best form, makes glass-blowing as fascinating and dangerous as steeplechasing."
How far can you get from the world of horse racing and still be the doyen of the equine thriller? Francis's latest hero doesn't get any closer to the winner's circle than glass-blowing, but that's close enough for plenty of excitement. Read full book review >
SECOND WIND by Dick Francis
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Oct. 4, 1999

Francis celebrates his 40th horses-plus suspenser by taking his hero on a vacation in the Caribbean—into the eye of a hurricane that will lead him to still deeper mysteries. Perry Stuart doesn't just read the weather report for the BBC; he's a meteorologist and Ph.D. physicist whose predictions are followed religiously by (of course) racehorse owners all over England. But Caspar Harvey is in no position to take advantage of Perry's clear-and-fast forecast for an upcoming race date; his prize filly's come down with a mysterious ailment. Nothing daunted despite his beloved grandmother's heebie-jeebies, Perry takes off with his friend and colleague Kris Ironside, a daredevil amateur pilot, for Grand Cayman, where Harvey's friend, American mushroom grower Robin Darcy, has bought an airplane Kris can borrow to satisfy a long-held dream: flying through Category-3 Hurricane Odin. Francis (Field of Thirteen, 1998, etc.) does a masterly job building portents of doom through the first third of this adventure, and no one but Perry will be surprised when the flight maroons him back on Trox Island, a tiny scrap of land he'd explored briefly with Kris on Robin's behalf as the price of borrowing the aircraft. But with Perry's rescue from the island, the mode of the story shifts abruptly from suspense to mystery, as threats to life and limb give way to a series of riddles. What errand did Robin want Kris to run on the island? What's the meaning of the coded figures Perry found inside a locked safe during his stay? What claims does Robin's Unified Trading Company (whose members seem to include virtually every member of the small cast) have on the island? Why is Perry, days after his rescue, now taking sick? And what does his illness have to do with the malady that sidelined that filly? Urgent questions, all of them, answered with of all Francis's usual unobtrusive technical mastery—even if fans looking for the thrills he more often provides think the action here trails off long before the finish line. Read full book review >
FIELD OF THIRTEEN by Dick Francis
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 8, 1998

In lieu of his annual novel (10 Lb. Penalty, 1997, etc.), horse racing's gift to the mystery offers his fans his first collection of shorts, including five colts appearing in their first event and eight fillies who've been around the track once or twice. Most of the new stories are horsey parables of revenge. A small-town newspaper editor plots against the restaurant that humiliated his guests; a mild expatriate Brit patiently pursues legal remedies against the lawyer who swindled him out of the bail money he put up for an acquaintance; a couple of means gets even with the social-climbing daughter who neglected her mother, their faithful groom; a timely accident puts paid to the plans of a hit man and the jockey who hired him. The last story, —Haig's Death,— about the effects of a race judge's fatal heart attack on the owners of the entrants, is the most original. But Francis fans won't be looking for originality here; they'll be content with the brisk authority with which the author sets up his familiar types for a series of falls as satisfying as they are predictable. Read full book review >
10 LB. PENALTY by Dick Francis
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 22, 1997

Pleasing lesser Francis (To the Hilt, 1996, etc., etc.) that takes its young hero from horse racing to the far rougher world of British politics. Benedict Juliard may be just a boy—he's only 18 when his father arranges for him to be fired from his job as an amateur jockey so Ben can campaign at his side in a Parliamentary by- election—but his talent for listening to people and drawing them out is such a complement to George Juliard's mastery of big- picture rhetoric that he's an unexpected asset on the campaign trail. Unexpected and unwelcome, not only to Paul Bethune, the opposition candidate, and his hapless wife Isobel, but to Orinda Nagle, vitriolic widow of the late MP for Hoopwestern, who can't understand how the nominating committee for her own party could have made the ghastly mistake, darling, of passing her over for Dennis Nagle's vacant seat—and to Alderney Wyvern, once Dennis's close friend, now Orinda's constant, and rather sinister, companion. As George's campaign gathers steam, and Ben basks in the glow of his father's approval—best here is Francis's sharp portrait of instinctive sympathy between the very different father and son—predictable obstacles emerge. Usher Rudd, a muckraker who's been slinging mud against Paul Bethune, turns his attention to George; somebody tries to kill George; and you find yourself settling in happily to a treat of customary Francis thrills and spills. But the campaign turns out to be only Act One; George's victory and Ben's return to racing merely set the stage for anticlimactic Act Two, five years later, when Wyvern and Rudd come blustering back in search of the revenge they're sure they're owed. Though the toothless villains deprive the story of any strong sense of direction—a surprising disappointment from reliable Francis—the tale is fleetly and unassumingly told, without any of the excess baggage that has often given the distinguished ex-jockey trouble making weight. Read full book review >
TO THE HILT by Dick Francis
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 24, 1996

Horses finish well back in the field in Francis's dependable 36th thriller. Like the heroes of the first 35, Alexander Kinloch is a loner—a painter who lives without mod. cons. in the Scottish Highlands—pulled reluctantly into action by a summons from one of the few people who knows he's alive. His unemotional mother cables him to let him know that his stepfather, Sir Ivan Westering, has been stricken by a heart attack. Even before he can pack for London, Al is attacked by four thugs who demand to know where it is (they don't say what it is, and Al doesn't ask), leave him barely alive when he won't talk, and make him much more interested in Ivan's messy affairs. An embezzling finance director has toppled Ivan's brewery into bankruptcy, and Ivan's rapacious daughter Patsy Benchmark is hot to seize his assets, including Golden Malt, a steeplechase hopeful for the brewery's King Alfred Gold Cup, and an actual gold cup linked to Alfred the Great, and only Al, who knows precious little about either horses or antiquities, can help. There'll be insolvency consultants to meet, creditors to persuade, an elderly nationalistic evaluator to outwit (she wants not the gold cup but the 1740 hilt from Prince Charles's ceremonial sword, a gift from Charles to Al's family, returned by his titled uncle to Scotland), Patsy and her unsavory husband to foil, Al's long-estranged wife to come to terms with, and an unexpected manslaughter to solve. Al pulls off these commissions with panache, and with the help of an uncommonly versatile private eye. Far from Francis's best work (Come to Grief, 1995, etc.), but among his most generously plotted books, by turns unexpectedly humorous and moving in its rooting of stoicism in personal loyalty. It's a fine moral code for a jockey, but Al shows that you don't have to be a jockey to be true to your friends. Read full book review >
COME TO GRIEF by Dick Francis
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 26, 1995

Big news for Francis fans: He's broken his rule against recycling heroes and brought back one-handed p.i. Sid Halley (Odds, Against, 1966; Whip Hand, 1980) to investigate a series of mutilations of two-year-old ponies. Sid naturally feels close to the equine victims, who've had their off-forefeet amputated; but he feels even more unnervingly close to the suspect he soon uncovers—his old friend and former racing competitor Ellis Quint, now turned immensely popular TV entertainer. Despite the mountain of evidence that leads to Ellis's arrest, Sid, gagged by England's sub judice role from discussing the case until the trial begins, falls victim himself to a campaign of smears and revenge so vicious—the weekly paper he's been working with suddenly turns on him in savage columns defending Ellis, and Ellis's father attacks him with an iron bar—that there must be somebody big and well-organized behind the vendetta against him. A world away from the racetracks he used to call home—the closest we get to a race is Sid's laconic comment, "I watched the Derby with inattention. An outsider won"—Sid pokes around after that somebody, risking not only innuendo and hatred, but the loss of his remaining hand. Francis's 34th novel is grand entertainment with a bittersweet edge his fans haven't seen since his sorely missed hero's last appearance. Welcome back, Sid. Read full book review >
WILD HORSES by Dick Francis
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 21, 1994

Stealing a few hours from Unstable Times, the horsey film he's directing in Newmarket, Thomas Lyon goes to visit his friend Valentine Clark, a blacksmith/columnist dying of cancer, and becomes the reluctant repository of Valentine's confession that he killed that Cornish boy and left the knife with Derry. Cryptic ramblings, thinks Thomas, until Dorothea Pannier, the sister who survived Valentine, is savagely attacked by somebody who's been searching their house for some evidence (a book, a photo, a memorandum?) of Valentine's crime, and Thomas is threatened with death if he doesn't stop work on the film he's making, a fictionalized account of the 26-year-old hanging of Sonia Wells, whose husband, trainer Jackson Wells, the film seems to implicate in her death. There's no shortage of suspects who'd like to see the last of Unstable Times—Sonia's sister Audrey Visborough goes so far as to plant vituperative rumors about Thomas's feud with the screenwriter in a local tabloid, and the rest of the family lines up behind her to sniff their disapproval—but why would any of these prim snobs have stabbed so many people (Dorothea, her supercilious son Paul, Thomas himself) who seem to know nothing about the case? And who are Derry and the Cornish boy, anyway? The lowdown on film direction is fascinating—is there anything, however remotely connected with horses, that Francis isn't an expert on?—but the mystery is muddled and the villains muffled. Coming after the twin peaks of Driving Force (1992) and Decider (1993), this entry marks an off year for Francis and his many fans. Read full book review >
DECIDER by Dick Francis
Released: Oct. 14, 1993

Francis's newest suspenser (his 32nd) is typical not only in its racetrack setting, but in its doubling of the hero's mildly dysfunctional family (he and his diffident wife are held together only by their brood of six sons) with another family of deep-dyed villains. Because his mother Madeline was once married into the fractious Stratton family, owners of the Stratton Park racecourse, architect/ builder Lee Morris, a restorer of ruined houses, owns a small number of voting shares in the course. His long-standing revulsion from Madeline's wife-beating first husband Keith Stratton has kept him away from the family—especially from his half-sister Hannah, a child of marital rape—and, despite the pleas of course manager Roger Gardner, he intends to keep his distance even when Keith's father, Lord William Stratton, dies. But an invitation to a meeting of the shareholders leads to an unexpected request from matriarchal Marjorie Binsham, William's sister—to look into the question of whether the outdated grandstands really need replacing—and while he's poking around along with his five oldest sons, an explosion rocks the stands and nearly kills him. Sabotage, of course; but was the culprit habitual animal- rights picketer Harold Quest, or one of the Stratton heirs—Keith himself, his despised twin Conrad (the new head of the family), their ineffectual brother Ivan—or one of their children—spiteful unwed mother Hannah, sullen jockey Rebecca, insouciant Dart, or troublemaking Forsyth? Francis's biggest coup here is his success in delineating shades and varieties of wickedness in the superbly monstrous Strattons. Despite an unconvincing hint of May-December romance for his fatalistic hero, this is the most elaborate and satisfying of his recent books—a winner from the starting gate to the last hurdle. Read full book review >
DRIVING FORCE by Dick Francis
Released: Oct. 19, 1992

Is there any aspect of horse-racing that Dick Francis hasn't turned into a thriller? Yes: the horse-van business—with all those drivers taking horses to and from races, trainers, and breeders. And it's the basis for the freshest, moat energetic Francis book in years. Ex-jockey Freddie Croft, the likable narrator, owns and runs a fleet of 14 vans "zigzagging round England"—a tricky setup full of scheduling headaches. So the last thing Freddie needs is a couple of suspicious deaths around the place. First, there's the shady, middle-aged gent who hitches a ride on one of Freddie's vans and inconveniently drops dead (of natural causes, it seems). Then there's Jogger, Freddie's mechanic, who finds odd, empty containers attached to the undersides of several vans—and is soon thereafter discovered with a broken neck at the bottom of the inspection pit. And Freddie himself (in one of Francis's grand ordeal-set-pieces) is abducted and nearly drowned! What's going on? To find out, Freddie enlists the help of an undercover agent from Racing Security (an attractive older horsewoman) and—when strange chemical fluids become a key clue—his science-professor sister. Drug-smuggling? No—something far more interesting, with lots of curious, satisfying tidbits (from computer lore to Cockney rhyming slang) adding to the layered puzzle. Francis not only has a far-above-average plot this time. He has also taken the trouble to flesh out the supporting cast—the fussy and eccentric owners, the raggedy drivers, etc.—with his old-time brio. All in all, despite a sometimes sluggish pace: top-drawer Francis. Read full book review >
COMEBACK by Dick Francis
Released: Oct. 18, 1991

After a superfluous opening episode in Miami, Francis begins his 30th thriller by packing his Foreign Service hero Peter Darwin back to Cheltenham, where Peter spent his own early years, to solve the riddle of who burned down the office of his new friend Ken McClure's veterinary practice, who was the dead man found inside, and why and how so many of the horses that Ken has recently attended have died on (or awfully near) the operating table. Good questions, all of them—their mystery intensified by an unusually nasty second murder—and Peter is a likable detective (plus an engaging suitor of a bishop's daughter), but not a patch on Francis's brooding early heroes. The solution, which Peter helps construct from his own Cheltenham memories, is, like the whole exercise, a little pro forma, but the bestselling author's touch with a story is as sure as ever, and there's more about horses (though dead rather than quick) than in any Francis in years. Read full book review >
LONGSHOT by Dick Francis
Released: Oct. 17, 1990

Middling, readable Francis thrills—with a serviceable murder-mystery, some harrowing violence, horses in the background (if not central to the plot), and lots of filler about wilderness-survival literature. The young, plucky, good-hearted hero this time is narrator John Kendall, a travel/survival-writer and would-be novelist who's short of cash—and therefore agrees to write the authorized biography (a likely vanity-press item) of celebrated racehorse trainer Tremayne Vickers. (The job includes room-and-board at the Vickers manse.) Unenthusiastic at first, Kendall warms up soon after taking up residence with the Vickers family. He grows fond of the brusque yet thoughtful trainer; of Vickers' motherless teen-age son; of pretty assistant-trainer Mackie, who's married to Vickers' older son (a furniture-maker). Also, Kendall finds that he enjoys riding—and is good at it. Then, however, local police fund the remains of Angela Brickell, a nymphomaniacal teenager who disappeared several months back after working as one of the "lads" at the Vickers stables. So tensions mount as everyone wonders whodunit. Was it genial upper-crust horse-owner Harry Goodhaven? Or randy jockey Sam Yaeger? Or amateur rider Nolan Everard, already found guilty in the manslaughter strangulation of a young woman? Or. . .? Things get slightly more complicated when someone tries to kill dear Harry—who's saved from a horrid drowning by John. And eventually, because John is proving a clever sleuth, the killer stalks him—in a grisly finale that has John, pierced through with an arrow, enduring a formidable survival-ordeal. Rather slow-moving (about 100 pp. too long) and predictable—but okay entertainment in the later, lesser Francis manner, without the foolish tedium of Hot Money or The Edge. Read full book review >
HOT MONEY by Dick Francis
Released: March 7, 1988

In many of the better Francis adventures (and a few of the weaker ones), the hero is driven by an intense, admirable loyalty to some family relation. Here, for the first time, the mystery-suspense is all about family—with an old-fashioned emphasis on alibis, sibling rivalry, and a slew of crisscrossing motives. Super-tycoon Malcolm Pembroke has been married five times, winding up at age 68 with nine children (five of them married) and three living ex-wives. So when someone murders wife #5 Moira and then seems to be out to kill Malcolm himself, there are suspects galore. After all, Malcolm will leave a fortune when he dies; most of his kids (having squandered their trust funds) are hard up; and they're all furious that Malcolm now seems intent on spending his millions as fast as possible. All, that is, except 30-ish son Ian, the unmarried narrator-hero—who, reconciled with Malcolm after a long tiff, is now devoted to keeping dad alive. . .and to figuring out which half-sibling is responsible for (among other things) blowing up the family manse (when Malcolm and Ian were supposed to be sleeping therein). Along the way, Ian rakes up lots of touchy family history, jolting two of his brothers (one a self-deprecating alcoholic, the other one obsessed with his quasi-illegitimacy) into therapeutic self-awareness. And he ultimately sets a trap for the culprit—resulting in another explosion and some psycho-gothicky revelations (reminiscent of Christie's Crooked House). Those who read Francis for the action and the horses will be disappointed: though Ian is an amateur jockey and Malcolm buys thoroughbreds 'round the world, the racing is peripheral. The sleuthing, too, is far from riveting. But the Francis combination of airy, muscular storytelling and gruff sentiment makes for steady-on entertainment once again—even with an over-large cast and a rather juiceless hero. Read full book review >
THE EDGE by Dick Francis
Released: Feb. 20, 1988

Once upon a time there was an ex-jockey named Dick Francis who wrote taut, fresh action-mysteries about racing (Dead Cert, Nerve, Forfeit, Bonecrack, etc.). For the past ten years or so, however, his fame has grown while his work has gotten ragged, strained, unreliable. And this new adventure—a formula train-thriller that's short on races, and virtually devoid of mystery—may well be Francis' weakest book yet. Bland narrator-hero Tor Kelsey is a millionaire but, for fun, works as a security-agent for the British Jockey Club. Most recently, he's been on the trail of sleek villain Julius Filmer, who's guilty of extortion and murder—but always manages to walk away scot-free. Then the Jockey Club learns that Filmer has booked passage on "The Great Transcontinental Mystery Race Train," a Canadian PR event that combines a posh rail-ride with special races and a silly "murder game" (complete with hired actors) along the way. What dastardly evil does Filmer have in mind? No one is sure. But young Tor goes undercover—just in case—as a waiter/actor. From Toronto to Vancouver, he watches as Filmer cozies up to a matronly (but shady) Thoroughbred-owner, and to the super-wealthy Lorrimore family. Blackmail, it would seem, is in the air—as is sabotage: all the familiar railroad cliffhangers are played out, halfheartedly. Some of the horses on board may also be in danger. And eventually, after some minor derring-do, Tor foils the foul Filmer at last—and uncovers the truth about the Lorrimore dan's truly ludicrous Deep Dark Secret. Lumpily padded, thinly plotted: a thoroughgoing disappointment for Francis fans—and not much fun even for fanciers of the luxury-train-in-jeopardy genre. Read full book review >
BOLT by Dick Francis
Released: March 1, 1987

Kit Fielding, the rather colorless jockey-hero of Francis' last novel, Break In, returns—in a limp sequel that features a cardboard super-villain, no mystery whatsoever, and only sporadic flickers of genuine action-excitement. Princess Casilia, the grande dame horse-owner who employs Kit, is in a terrible state—because her elderly husband Roland, part-owner of a French plastics factory, is being harassed by his evil co-owner, Henri Nanterre, who wants to manufacture guns. Roland nobly loathes the idea, of course, refusing to acquiesce—even when two of the dear Princess' favorite horses are found dead in their stalls, killed with a "humane" bolt-gun. So it's up to Kit to protect the Princess and her family from Nanterre's blackmail and dastardly attacks: Roland's niece Danielle (Kit's fiancÉe) is pursued by a hooded assailant; Casilia's nephew, Prince Litsi (who might be wooing Danielle away), walks into a booby trap at the race track, nearly falling to his death. And eventually, after coming to the rescue in each and every case, Kit traps the cartoonish Nanterre. demobilizing him—though the Princess' horses will remain in danger until a second monstrous villain (from Kit's past') is finished off permanently. The disjointed plot here has none of the pace and form of Francis at his best—or second-best for that matter. Kit's romantic frettings about Danielle and Litsi are soggy filler; the sentimentality throughout, in fact, seems uncharacteristically forced. And the derring-do (none of it on horseback) is only fitfully suspenseful. Still, it's all blandly readable—and that may be enough, along with the racecourse background, for loyal fans. Read full book review >
BREAK IN by Dick Francis
Released: March 1, 1986

After strong-selling digressions into finance, kidnapping, and the liquor business (Banker, The Danger, Proof), Francis is back with a jockey-hero and lots of racing-game atmosphere again: this new adventure—which also involves some slimy newspaper doings—reads like a mild, murder-less, very agreeable replay of such early Francis standouts as Enquiry and Bone-crack. The narrator-sleuth here is Kit Fielding, a 30-ish steeplechase jockey, unusually tall for the track (he must watch his weight maniacally) and highly successful. But Kit's pleasant status-quo quickly evaporates when big troubles descend on his beloved twin-sister Holly: someone seems determined to bring financial ruin—through vicious rumor-mongering—on Holly's cloddish yet decent husband Bobby Allardeck, a struggling racehorse trainer. Indeed, once nasty tidbits about Bobby's insolvency start appearing in the Daily Flag's gossip column, his fledgling business immediately starts unraveling. Soon, however, hero Kit begins to suspect that the real target of the rumor-campaign isn't Bobby but his estranged father Maynard Allardeck, a ruthless tycoon/philanthropist who has cruelly disinherited poor Bobby (because of marrying Holly despite a longstanding Fielding/Allardeck family feud). Is someone out to prevent Maynard from receiving the knighthood he longs for by darkening his public image? So it seems. And, while sparring violently with the thuggish Daily Flag staff (their weapons include stun guns!), Kit sets out to learn the ugliest secrets of Maynard's rise to conglomerate fortune—convinced, quite rightly, that one of Maynard's many take-over victims is responsible for the vengeance-by-rumor scheme. Francis fills out this plot—one of his thinnest ever—with a characteristic assortment of side-issues, vignettes, and personalities: Kit's nice romance with an American TV-news producer (the niece of a horse-owning princess); his races in various states of physical disrepair; his intense attachment (complete with telepathy) to twin-sister Holly, his problematic relationship with brother-in-law Bobby. So, while some readers may be disappointed by the relative placidity and predictability here, old Francis fans will find it all easy, comfy reading—from the noble, near-invincible hero to the monied villains and the ubiquitous horses. Read full book review >
THE DANGER by Dick Francis
Released: April 2, 1984

Most kidnap-thrillers suffer from pacing problems—with the familiar basics (the snatch, the ransom demand, the drop, etc,) strung out rather too predictably. So Francis, that canny pro, serves up three kidnap cases in a compact, all-tension, overlapping triptych: all the cases feature the same sleuth, and all (more surprisingly) feature the same evil mastermind. The novel opens mid-kidnap in Bologna: jockey Alessia Cenci has been abducted; her doting tycoon-father has agreed to the ransom; but, despite the presence of narrator Andrew Douglas, a kidnap-specialist from "Liberty Market Ltd.," the payoff has been bungled—with Italian cops too eager to nab the nappers. So, while the cops duel with two minor members of the kidnap team, Andrew quietly helps Cenci Sr. to placate the angry Mastermind, arranging for a new payoff: the money is paid, Alessia is found alive (if deeply traumatized), and Andrew's shrewd deductions help the Italian cops to capture most of the nappers. . . but not the anonymous Mastermind. Then, back in England, where Andrew spends his free time with the slowly-recovering Alessia (at a horse-training farm), case #2 erupts in Brighton—as the toddler-son of a coldhearted racehorse-owner is grabbed from a resort beach. This time, however, Andrew and an ex-SAS colleague don't just supervise the ransom-payment; instead, they manage (somewhat too easily?) to locate the kidnappers' hideout, rescue the tot, and grab the locally hired culprits. . . but, again, not the mastermind. Could the two kidnaps be connected? Working from a few nicely teasing clues, Andrew thinks they could. And indeed they are—as Andrew discovers when he flies to Washington, D.C., to handle the kidnapping there of the British Jockey Club's senior steward: Andrew himself is soon kidnapped by the Mastermind. . . with a taut escape/detection/shootout finale. As usual, it's easy to fault Francis for sentimentality—in the sweet Andrew/Alessia romance, in the tearjerking moments during and after the toddler kidnap. This time, too, there's virtually no racetrack detail—while goody-goody Andrew is less interesting than many Francis heroes. Yet somehow none of these drawbacks really interferes with the unique grab of Francis' plain, tough, tender suspense-magic: less truly authentic than other kidnap novels, this one nonetheless tops them all—with a streamlined mixture of mystery, heart (kidnap-victim psychology), and nonstop action. Read full book review >
PROOF by Dick Francis
Released: March 25, 1984

Booze, not horse-racing, is the primary focus of Francis' latest suspense tale—which, like several of his recent efforts, is rather skimpy on mystery, rather heavy on talk and violence. The novel opens, in fact, with a compelling (but almost entirely irrelevant) disaster scene: a big party at the home of horse-trainer Jack Hawthorn becomes a bloody tragedy when a heavy horse-trailer rolls down a hill and crashes into the party-tent—killing eight, wounding many more. Among the dead: a rather shady winebar-owner named Larry Trent. Among the survivors: wine-merchant Tony Beach, grieving young widower and narrator-hero. And soon Tony is helping the police (and a private-eye chum) to investigate the reported appearance—in local bars and restaurants—of low-price spirits in high-price bottles. Could this rebottling scare be connected to the theft of trailer-fuls of gardenvariety scotch? (That's the private-eye's case.) And what about the gruesome murder—head-wrapping with plaster—of the wine-steward at the late Larry Trent's bar? Or a violent attack on amateur sleuth Tony at his shop? Well, the sleuthing is fairly routine here, largely consisting of following each clue until the bad-guys appear and rough up the good-guys. But the action scenes themselves have most of Francis' visceral zip; the wine-info, though rather too chattily dispensed, covers a lot of diverting ground (label-forging, the perils of wine-tasting, the economics of catering); and Tony, if a bit soppy in his laments for dead wife Emma, develops several genuinely endearing relationships here (none of them romantic)—which helps to make this lesser Francis very likable. . . if not very gripping. Read full book review >
BANKER by Dick Francis
Released: April 1, 1983

Don't let that title worry you: there's plenty about horses in Francis' new mystery—which offers one of his best plots in years. The narrator this rime, rather less appealing than other Francis heroes, is young London banker-merchant Tim Ekaterin. But Francis manages to make Tim's loan-department work thoroughly engaging: the office politics, the excitement of seeing a risky loan pay off (as with a cartoonist/animator whom Tire believes in). And one particular loan soon dominates: the bank, on Tim's recommendation, lends stud-farmer Oliver Knowles the $5 million pounds to buy racing-stallion Sandcastle. (Intriguing details on the mechanics and economics of star horse-breeding abound.) Tire befriends Knowles and his adorable teenage daughter Ginnie; he makes friends in the horse-world—including Calder Jackson, a charismatic "healer" of horses who has brought several incurable animals back to health. But then everything turns sour: a veterinarian acquaintance is murdered; over half of Sandcastle's first crop of foals are born dead or deformed; Knowles faces ruin; dear Ginnie is also murdered. So Tire, with help from a pharmacologist friend, starts piecing things together (most readers will be slightly ahead of him). . . and winds up in an ordeal/confrontation with the vi/lain. Francis tends toward the saccharine here and there, especially with Tim's love-lire. (He longs for the wife of a beloved colleague—and gets her in a mushily contrived fadeout.) The whole book, in fact, could have used some editorial tightening. But, if not in a class with early/great Francis, this is several lengths ahead of almost everybody else: a lively, amazingly fresh blend of horse-talk, money-talk, medicine, action. . . and sentiment. Read full book review >
TWICE SHY by Dick Francis
Released: April 16, 1982

As hinted in the title, Francis has altered his formula a bit this time. Instead of one decent, reluctant hero, here there are two: the Derry brothers, who fight the same monster-villain. . .but 14 years apart. First we meet 30-ish narrator Jonathan Derry, a physics teacher who is given some computer-tapes (for safe-keeping) by a pal. And when the pal promptly dies in a boat explosion, a couple of thugs pay Jonathan a visit—who, since he happens to be an Olympic marksman, fends them off with a gun. What's on these precious tapes, then? Well, as Jonathan sleuthfully discovers, the tapes contain a fool-proof horserace-betting system—stolen from an ancient widow (her gambler-husband created the system). So Jonathan tries to keep the tapes from the thugs—but thug Angelo, who has already killed at least once in his tape-pursuit, now takes Jonathan's wife hostage; and our ingenious hero must use both physics and marksmanship to rescue wife Sarah (along with their rocky relationship) and get Angelo sent to prison. The end? Hardly. Suddenly it's 14 years later, Jonathan is teaching in California, but his kid brother William (now 29) is in England, managing the many racehorses of an American tycoon. And when raging bull Angelo is released from prison, monstrously vengeful, he goes after nartutor #2 William—who decides to try to make permanent peace: he bashes Angelo, locks him in a cellar, gets hold of those notorious tapes (which Jonathan long ago gave to a schoolteacher chum), and gives them to the now-subdued Angelo. The end? Not quite. Because, unbeknownst to William, those tapes are fatally flawed, and Angelo soon believes that William has tricked him—which means that there's more mayhem ahead before the Derrys can rest easy. True, as you may have gathered, the horses are pretty much in the background this time (though nicely so). And there's a thinness of emotional texture in the blow-by-blow second half. (One can't help wondering how much more powerful the book would have been if Jonathan were killed by Angelo.) But, if not as informative or affecting as prime Francis, this is topnotch, nonstop entertainment: ironic, clever, exciting, and—even when rip-roaringly violent—thoroughly warmhearted. Read full book review >
REFLEX by Dick Francis
Released: April 1, 1981

Don't let the book-club selection and change of publisher worry you: this is the same old Dick Francis, very much true to form, with a stoic jockey-sleuth (amateur photographer too) who uncovers dirty business at the track while getting beaten up and testing the limits of honor, loyalty, and friendship. He's Philip Nore, an aging jockey with a family problem: abandoned long ago by his unwed drug-addict mother, loner Philip is now asked by his rich, despised grandmother to find a much younger half-sister he's never known about. And so he will, picking up bits of his own past—and a lovely soulmate—along the way. But the main mystery here involves the legacy of late (car-crash), abrasive track photographer George Millace: George's house is burned; his widow (with whom Philip develops a fond, affecting chumship) is beaten up; and Philip gets some scraps of George's film which—when elaborately decoded in the darkroom-document the dirty secrets of a track-society climber, an owner who shot his own horses (for insurance), and other blackmail victims of the late photographer. Which of the blackmailees killed George (and nearly kills Philip and his new, fond friends)? Will Philip follow the late George into blackmail—or into professional photography? Good questions. Good book (not as good as Risk, let alone the early greats; but better than Trial Run or Whip Hand). And Francis is still faster around the track than anybody else in the business. Read full book review >
WHIP HAND by Dick Francis
Released: May 28, 1980

After a dull departure into spy/terrorism (Trial Run), Francis clearly wants to get back on the track—and he does it by reviving lame ex-jockey/private-eye Sid Halley (Odds Against, 1966), whose sleuthing led to his losing a hand (he now has a nifty motorized one). Despite such disabilities, narrator Sid takes on three simultaneous cases here: one for friendship (figuring out why a trainer's most promising horses have all been losing, then dying); one for love (tracking down the con-man who has made an unwitting criminal out of Sid's bitter ex-wife Jenny); and one for profit (checking up on a crooked racing official). Francis fans will not be surprised to learn that Sid's snooping brings him physical ordeals—locked in a horse trailer, beaten with chains. But there's also a delightfully surprising balloon race (Sid needs to interview the balloonist), Francis sentiment at its best (Sid's relationship with his beloved ex-father-in-law), and a nice enough final twist. True, some will find Sid's heroism a bit much ("Isn't there anything . . . that you're afraid of?" the villain asks Sid in the book's last line); and the triple-focus—perhaps designed for the TV version to be seen here in the spring—never equals the impact of the best, relentless Francis adventures. But, even if not quite topnotch, this is the steeplechaser in his old, tough, vivid manner, a solid winner in just about any mystery/adventure race around. Read full book review >
TRIAL RUN by Dick Francis
Released: May 16, 1979

Well, now we know why Dick Francis has always stuck close to his formula of horse-racing-and-physical-ordeals. Within that formula, he is fresh, inventive, and like no one else; without that formula, as in this espionage-in-Moscow caper, he's perfectly acceptable but lacking in the special character that has made him a widespread addiction. True, there is some horseplay here: gentleman farmer Randall Drew is begged by a member of the royal family to go to Moscow to investigate rumors about a possible murder and some danger for a prospective member of the British Olympic Riding Team at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. And Randall does barely avoid being trampled and, later, frozen to death in the Moscow River. But mostly his inquiries in Moscow involve a talky, predictable round of secret rendezvous, fears about bugging and surveillance, and exclamations of surprise at the repression in everyday Soviet life. Worse yet, the solution hinges on a plot device that Dick Francis could certainly have left to the second-raters: crazy terrorists. By anyone else's standards—tightly written, competent suspense. By Francis standards—unexciting, cliche-ridden, and only occasionally colored with the author's distinctive character. Read full book review >
IN THE FRAME by Dick Francis
Released: March 30, 1977

The horses age painted ones this time, but stop worrying. You won't have a moment to miss the hooves and the muck. Charles Todd, master of equine portraiture, stumbles on a pattern: visitors to Australia purchase horse pictures and, in no time at all, their homes are burglarized. In the case of Todd's kinsman, the burglary also involves murder, so it's Down Under for the Franciscan confrontation between a resourceful loner and a ruthless crime-conglomerate. Action, character, and color ride in perfect balance again (last year's High Stakes teetered a bit), and the "Am I my brother's keeper?" motif returns in subtle high gear, just to remind us that Francis stays on top because he remembers to touch bottom. Read full book review >
HIGH STAKES by Dick Francis
Released: May 1, 1976

Steven Scott, all-around success, a toymaker of considerable ingenuity, and a race horse owner on the side, hasn't noticed that he's been stolen blind by his trainer and a bookmaker until a brutal assault, which, along with alcohol dripped into his veins, leaves him doubly knocked out. Then there's the theft of his best horse Energise who will be run under a different name. No personal problems this time (Francis readers usually enjoy them)—just a straight run somewhere in the middle of the form which is authoritatively and exclusively his, hers and theirs. Read full book review >
SLAY-RIDE by Dick Francis
Released: Feb. 2, 1973

At the start it's to the races again — this time in Norway where a jockey is said to have disappeared with the day's turnstile take. But from then on this is far from the usual hoof beaten track since blue pictures possibly for blackmail and a mineral potential make the stakes much, much bigger. . . . The story's sound and Mr. Francis keeps it moving and changing directions with his customized touch. Read full book review >
BONECRACK by Dick Francis
Released: May 17, 1972

Neil Griffon, who had broken with his father altogether as a youngster and made it on his own, is forced to take over the old man's training stables when the latter is hospitalized. He's also forced to take on, as a jockey, the son of a murderously mad Italian who wants the best for his boy and is ready to kill to secure it. Francis is back at the top of his form in the special world he's created and this exerts considerable torsion right down to the crunch — of broken hocks and collarbones. You'll like these sons of sons and the gentle moral message. Read full book review >
SMOKESCREEN by Dick Francis
Released: Feb. 1, 1972

A horse story — in occasional stretches, a mystery — certainly, but primarily a supersized action-suspense novel featuring several backgrounds and situations and you can get them all together via Edward Lincoln, family man and nephew of the courageously dying Nerissa, film star — muy hombre, and patron of the track. Nerissa sends him to South Africa to see why her string of horses are running very badly — they're to be the bequest to another nephew, a golden boy in charm as well as potential fact. In a studio, in a gold mine, and finally in Kruger Park where he's trapped in a car alone for 80 hours, Lincoln is obviously to be killed. . . . This should win eased up — it's the most of the very best. Read full book review >
RAT RACE by Dick Francis
Released: March 3, 1971

Matt Shore, small job pilot with a large painful past, transports dabblers, die-hards, a racketeer or two along with a brace of jockeys to the track. An apparent attempted murder of one, bomb scares and the trail of a con artist bring Matt down to earth, more than once. Tiresome but the fans are not ready to ground him yet. Read full book review >
ENQUIRY by Dick Francis
Released: July 1, 1970

Kelly Hughes, one of Mr. Francis' scrappy jockeys, is disbarred after his poor showing in the Lemonfizz Crystal Cup and Kelly survives (a nearly fatal accident; an assault) to prove how it was rigged. This is another pro forma performance with the expected competence; even if the story itself barely reaches the backstretch, his admirers are hard to unseat. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Feb. 26, 1969

The author has done supremely well in the mystery category with books like Flying Finish. Blood Sport etc., and if those had an authentic air, this is the reason. It's the autobiography of a man who was stable-ized right from the start and ended wearing the Queen's silks in the Grand National steeplechase that was to become a National disaster. Both his grandfather and father were jockeys and superb trainers but it took Dick until the late age of twenty-five to get into his first race. This is a history of an era of hunts and shows and triumph and broken bones with wonderful detail from the weighing room with its attendant valets to the winners circle with its saliva tests for drugs. Mr. Francis takes you right into the jump with insiders' information on everything from courses to the horse's conformation. Then there's that climactic moment at the National with Francis on the Irish thoroughbred Devon Loch way ahead with fifty yards to the finish and the Queen Mother waiting for the triumph... and Devon Loch sits down... Previously dubbed "the man who didn't win the Grand National," Mr. Francis may change his epitaph — to "the bloke who writes those bloody good books. Read full book review >
BLOOD SPORT by Dick Francis
Released: Feb. 28, 1968

Mr. Francis specializes in horseflesh/suspense; here he moves closer to the mode in espionage novels, horses and all. Her Hawkins is in the Le Carre vein—a desperately tired, lonely agent nearing middle age. His boss insists on a holiday and the only kind Hawkins will take is the busman's variety. He goes looking for three stolen stud horses and the search takes him over the horse-breeding U.S. with up-dated rustling scenes that have all the old movie western appeal and the same sure-fire shoot-it-out in the canyon passages plus a saddle soap dollop of proper romance. Galloping entertainment. Read full book review >
FORFEIT by Dick Francis
Released: Feb. 26, 1968

Reporter James Tyrone takes on an additional assignment in order to cover the expenses that help support his invalid wife. But he finds himself with more than just an inside scoop on the Lamplighter steeplechase after a friend's death (suicide?). It seems that just too many pre-post favorites never make it to the starting gate and James himself almost becomes a loser after threats to his wife, blackmail and beatings. And then there's the dusky beauty Gail who loves him, betrays him, in this multi-gaited thriller. Read full book review >
FLYING FINISH by Dick Francis
Released: June 21, 1967

Dick Francis was off to a flying start with American mystery fans from the time he published his first book, Dead Cert, in 1962. He writes of steeplechasing in his cliffhangers and this time the narrator is Henry, Lord Grey, who slips the family bloodline to take a job as a groom on import/export stud flights. A lot of personnel disappear in various counteries, but Grey doesn't think much of it until he finds out enough to get himself killed too. Read full book review >
ODDS AGAINST by Dick Francis
Released: March 16, 1966

England, like the rest of the civilized world, has a population expanding at the bottom and top of the age levels. It has become land poor to the point where two of their best mysteries take off from the issue of real estate take-overs (cf. Gilbert's excellent The Crack in the Teacup- p. 1207). Dick Francis has a tougher touch with the subject and a notable way of introducing the fascinating facts of steeplechasing. His private eye here, Sid Halley, an ex-jockey, is assigned by his agency to prevent another race course from being grabbed for acres of ticky-tacky housing. Fast away. Read full book review >
FOR KICKS by Dick Francis
Released: March 10, 1965

Daniel Roke is the sort of gentleman detective it would be nice to meet again and again and .. He's Australian, whip slim and whip sharp and can fade into a crowd. The backdrop here is the other half of the fascination —the English stables supplying horses for the steeplechase races. Roke works as a stable ""lad"" to find out the brutally ingenious methods by which certain nags are made into winning steeds. A photo finish for suspense and well up to this author's last— Nerve. Read full book review >
NERVE by Dick Francis
Released: March 25, 1964

Rob Finn, just hitting his stride as an up and coming steeplechase jockey, finds a wall that can't be jumped. He is one of several jockeys being hounded out of racing by unfounded, untraceable rumors about his personal character. Finn decides to right back. He determines to do to his persecutor everything that has been done to him. The pace of the races and the build up of the revenge plot that Finn institutes produces swift-reading suspense/mystery in an unusual setting. Read full book review >
DEAD CERT by Dick Francis
Released: June 15, 1962

Murder on the track Lakes a special turn with amateur steeplechasing in England, and Alan York, from Australia, sticks with the course in trying to find the reasons for his best friend's dying on a jump. Threats, a planned accident for Alan, the strange activities of taxi drivers, an undeniable murder, and Alan, completing a fine cross country from a gang, fights it out riding against the killer. Clicks. Read full book review >