Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday, 15 February 2010

Dick Francis: Rest in (Unproductive) Peace


Perhaps the most original testimonial to this late, lamented author is the popularity of his books among the swordboat fishermen of the Grand Banks. Sebastian Junger ('The Perfect Storm') describes the way increasingly dog-eared copies of Francis' novels are eagerly passed among the boats of the fleet.

Junger suggests an interesting reason - that men exposed to the dangers of line-fishing for swordfish enjoy reading about other forms of jeopardy, written by a man who understands risk. It probably helps, when you're at the mercy of the North Atlantic, to lose yourself in the distinctly land-bound world of racing.

The same explanation probably accounts for the fact that, according to a geologist friend, Dick Francis novels abound on North Sea oil rigs - although it's less easy to see what made them a hit at my school in the late 70's. Whatever the reason, it's hard to think of an author whose fan-base has extended quite so widely - from oil-rigs to pony clubs, from Parkhurst to Balmoral.

If Felix, his son and collaborator, continues the family business, there is only one thing I would ask; that he writes under his own name, eschewing the morbid tendency to continue an author's titular output from beyond the grave. The name Felix Francis on the cover should be sufficient recommendation for any fan.

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