Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published December 31st 2012
Murder Runs In The Family
Ever since the publication of Dead Cert in 1962 mystery readers have been accustomed to a new Dick Francis thriller for Christmas holiday reading.
Writing was Dick's second career, having been a champion jockey in the 1950s and jockey to the late Queen Mother. When he retired in 1957 at her suggestion following a more than usually serious fall he wrote his autobiography The Sport of Queens (revised several times).
This led to a taste for writing and combined with his wife Mary's diligent research the novels, centred round the horse-racing world with very few exceptions, did extremely well.
The books are fast-paced, deeply knowledgeable about racing, a somewhat closed and esoteric world to the average reader, and good fun.
Almost entirely written in the first person, the hero is in his mid-thirties, a good chap and has some serious disability in his life. It may be that he has a wife in an iron lung or he may be in love with an unattainable cousin, an almost invariably poor relationship with his father, a seriously damaged hand later amputated and so on and so forth.
The writing was always crisp and clean, the plot devious, and the pace spanking along. Both as a jockey and writer Dick gave full value to his patrons.
When he died in 2010 Dick was ninety, had produced some forty best-sellers and apart from tiny lapses from excellence had never disappointed. None of his books are out of print - a full list may be found here.
The death of the love of his life, wife Mary, whom he met and married in1945 was a terrible shock and he stopped writing and the mystery world mourned, but understood, his loss.
Then in 2006, after a gap of six years, in conjunction with his younger son Felix, he suddenly published Under Orders, a novel as stunning and fresh as any he had ever written. This was followed by Dead Heat, Silks, Even Money and Crossfire, all in partnership with Felix (who was the inspiration for the character/hero of Twice Shy).
Felix and Dick Francis
Since Dick's death Felix has taken over the family business, much as Chris Browne took over Dik Browne's creation of Hagar the Horrible when his father died in 1989.
Which brings us to the first entirely Felix book, appropriately enough called Bloodline. Although billed as 'A Dick Francis Novel' it is really Felix's first solo ride, and an excellent one it is too.
Not perhaps quite in the top flight, but better than most and I am hopeful that he will continue the family tradition of a book a year, which should see me out as he's younger than I am.
The plot follows very much the lines of a classic Francis. Mark Shillingford, (31) a racing commentator, calls a race in which his twin sister, Clare, deliberately pulls a horse and loses. The two quarrel and she storms off, only to commit suicide later that night … or so everyone thinks. Now read on.
This is not Francis at his best, but more and better is to come.