Flying finish

Dick Francis died on Sunday, February 14, 2010.

His father was a jockey and stable manager. After serving as an RAF pilot during World War II, he became a jockey. He won over 350 races and rode for the Queen Mother from 1953 to 1957. In 1957 he took a bad fall and had to retire. So what can a celebrated 37 year-old retired jockey do to earn his keep? Write his biography! It was good enough that it lead to a 16 year job as racing correspondent for London’s Sunday Express newspaper.

While writing for the newspaper, he also found the time to write his first novel, Dead Cert. It seems to have worked out because he wrote another novel each year for the next 38-odd years.

I joined his legion of fans in the mid to late 80s when I bought Proof. I bought it because of the cover, I admit, but I loved it. I quickly worked my way back through his catalogue and eagerly awaited his new novel every fall.

Given his expertise, his stories always have something to do with racing. Whether it’s right up front, or in the background, there are horses, jockeys, and races in there somewhere.

I read at one time that his wife was his chief researcher. In one of his stories, the main character was a pilot who ferried jockeys from city to city. It was his wife who learned how to fly. She died in 2000 and I feared that his novel that year would be the last. It wasn’t, but we had to wait for six years to read the next. With that 2006 novel, his son Felix was co-credited with the writing, as he was for each new novel since then. Dick was in poor health by this time. He had a heart bypass in 2006 and a leg amputation in 2007.

And this week he left us. He was 89.

I’m reading one of his books now, and I already miss him.

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