Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thrillers: Blood Sport by Dick Francis

After retiring in 1957 from a successful career as a jockey, then working for a spell as a racing journalists, Dick Francis started writing thriller novels, making the most of his knowledge of the world of horse racing to provide an intriguing background for his his fast-paced mysteries.
In Blood Sport, the hero figure is Gene Hawkins, a man whose qualifications for this position is that while he seems ordinary, even nondescript, he also happens to be an intelligence agent who is suffering from a suicidal frame of mind. His employer, Keeble, invites him for a day out on the river, only to introduce him to Dave Teiler, millionaire racehorse owner, whose prize stallion Chrysalis disappeared three weeks earlier. A'specialist in arranging accidents' himself, Gene becomes interested in helping track down the horse when he saves Teiler's life in a boating accident which Gene recognizes as a murder attempt. The story moves to America and the novel is packed with scenes of intrigue and suspense, finally leading up to murder.
Like most of Francis' many novels, Blood Sport uses horse racing as a vehicle for the mystery. The main characters may not necessarily be directly involved with the turf itself, but just have some indirect interest - Gene, for example, only has the merest connection with racing through his father, who was a trainer.

The first person narrative, however - a feature of many of Francis' books - allows us inside the mind of the hero, and so enhances the reader's enjoyment of the specialized environment. In using the world of horse racing, Francis is in some ways harking back to the self-contained settings of Golden Age detective fiction, but bringing it up-to-date and making the sport of kings accessible to the ordinary reader.

Dick Francis
(31 October 1920 – 14 February 2010)

Dick Francis was one of the most successful post-war National Hunt jockeys. The winner of over 350 races, he was champion jockey in 1953/1954 and rode for HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. On his retirement from the sport he published his autobiography, The Sport of Queens, before going on to write forty-three bestselling novels, a volume of short stories (Field of 13), and the biography of Lester Piggott. He was rightly acclaimed as one of the greatest thriller writers in the world.

Dick Francis was the winner of the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger and the only three-time recipient of the Mystery Writer of America’s Edgar Award for Best Novel, winning for Forfeit in 1970, Whip Hand in 1981, and Come to Grief in 1996, the same year he was make a Grand Master for a lifetime’s achievement. He was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2000.

His last four novels – Dead Heat, Silks, Even Money and Crossfire - were written in collaboration with his younger son, Felix, a former teacher who, over the past 40 years, helped research many of the Dick Francis novels. Crossfire, published in September 2010, was the book that he and Felix were working on before his death in February 2010.

Since his death, Felix has taken over the literary reigns from his father and Dick's legacy will live on through the Dick Francis novels.

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