I first “met” Dick Francis in a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book. These books were staples at my Aunt Marcella’s house in Grand Rapids MI. My Dad was her ”second son” nephew and through him she loved all of us! And we were better for her love and her zest for life. She played a mean game of “31” and loved to read! Our twice yearly family visits to he house are cherished memories. She shared all of her books with us and often sent me home with her lightly used volumes of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I met many authors – before formal academic reading of them – through these books. Authors who have shaped my adult reading pleasures in mystery, politics, historical fiction, biography and romance… Victoria Holt, Helen MacIness, Mary Stewart, Fletcher Knebel, Pearl S. Buck, Ernest K. Gann, Morris West, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, James Michener, Arthur Hailey, Irving Wallace, and Taylor Caldwell. I looked it up (that’s what we librarian’s do!) and the first Dick Francis story I read (I might have been 11) was Nerve – published in the Spring 1964 volume.
Yes, I am aware of the “mystery” of Dick Francis novels. Some have said his wife Mary actually wrote the books. His latest novels since his wife died have been openly co-authored with his son Felix. I do believe that the novels contain the essence of the man Dick Francis. Read his autobiography. And read his books even if you don’t like horse racing!
When I discuss reading with others, I always ask if they have read Dick Francis. If they have…I know they are a friend. How lucky was I that my favorite Mother-in-law, Gladys belonged to the Book of the Month Club and so always had the latest Dick Francis title for me to read – after she did, of course.
This self-contained world was, of course, a reflection of a broader universe in which themes of winning and losing and courage and integrity have more sweeping meaning. As the critic John Leonard wrote, “Not to read Dick Francis because you don’t like horses is like not reading Dostoyevsky because you don’t like God.”
After the death in 2000 of Mary Francis, his wife of 53 years and a close collaborator on his books, Mr. Francis expressed doubts that he would ever write another novel. “She was the moving force behind my writing,” he said. “I don’t think I shall write again other than letters now. So much of my work was her.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/15/books/15francis.html?pagewanted=1
He would prefer, he sometimes said, to be remembered as a jockey than as a writer, but then admitted wryly that, if it were so, he would be remembered only as the man whose horse stopped in the Grand National. Instead of which, millions of people, all over the world, are grateful for the pleasure he gave with his robust but not unsubtle, and in their way morally invigorating, tales. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article7026693.ece
Gene Hawkins, Tony Snow and Derek Franklin are friends of mine. I have met these characters in Dick Francis novels and they walk with me. I , too, wonder how to go on and fight depression as Gene Hawkins did in Blood Sport. Tony Snow, wine seller and quiet hero of Proof, feels his lack of courage, yet his perseverance in daily life after his wife and unborn baby die is heartfelt and inspiring. In Straight, Derek Franklin prays his brother Greville’s prayer to find wisdom:
May I deal with honor.
May I act with courage.
May I achieve humility.