In Memoriam: Dick Francis

March 6, 2010 at 12:12 pm (in memoriam, mystery, weekly report) (, )

Straight (1989) by Dick Francis (re-read of a good book by one of my favorite authors, who passed away last week)

To the Hilt (1996) by Dick Francis (re-read of one of my three favorite DF novels, and in my opinion his best work)

Banker (1982) by Dick Francis (re-read)

I was very sorry to hear that Dick Francis passed away in February; his mysteries are one of my most reliable sets of re-reads, and I have long admired his work ethic and the generally upward trend of his books’ quality over the decades.  He’s an extraordinary example of a writer sticking to, but not exhausting, a “gimmick” – in his case, an orbit around the world of (usually British) horse racing.

One of the biggest appeals of his books, to me, is the Narrator.   The Narrator is a man of stubborn courage – his defining characteristic, really.  He mostly has different jobs and histories from book to book, and a somewhat different personality, but it’s that fundamental tenacity that I most appreciate.

Then there are the secondary characters – a broad array of people, very different from book to book, some more interesting than others, but almost always well-defined and often somewhat unexpected.

Finally, in addition to solving the mystery (usually with a major physical component), the Narrator very often grows or discovers something new and important about himself, especially in the later works.  That’s a key to a really good novel – the inner and outer journeys finding meaningful resolution.

I’m not going to claim these works are great literature; possibly no one but English majors will be reading them a century from now, and they’ll be busy analyzing what they reveal about late-twentieth-century social mores.  But as I’ve said before: so what?

Farewell, Mr. Francis.  You’ll be missed.


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