I don’t have hard data to back this up but as you don’t have any way to contradict me I’ll boldly make the claim that Francis’ books have collectively provided me more hours of reading enjoyment than those of any other single author. Apart from the fact I’ve read all 44 of them at least once there’s the ubiquitous factor which has meant I’ve read many of them multiple times. As a young backpacker constantly in search of something in English to read I found that Barbara Cartland and Dick Francis were the two authors whose books I could always find, no matter how far-flung or how un-English-speaking the country was. Having never taken to romances, my choice when I needed written companionship on my travels was often Dick Francis.
Of course all the books are pretty much the same and Crossfire, the last book he had any hand in writing which was published following his death last year, was no exception to the rule. A young-ish (32) bloke of strong character (Army Captain Tom Forsyth who is on leave from the military after being severely injured in Afghanistan) found himself caught up in mysterious or criminal circumstances (his mother is being blackmailed to the tune of £2000 a week) in a scenario at least vaguely to do with horses (she is a trainer). The dramatic events are underpinned by well researched details of an industry, subject or location to add interest (here it’s a potted history of military strategy as Tom treats his approach to the blackmailers like a battle), sometimes there is a love interest (Tom’s primary school crush Isobella) and the good guy triumphs after several close calls with near-death experiences.
It might not be great literature but it is comforting, entertaining and informative (at least the first time you read each book). There are a lot worse legacies a person could leave than several dozen well-told, ripping yarns without loads of gratuitous sex and violence where a good bloke triumphs over a bad one after several close brushes with death or (much worse in a Francis world) failure.
I’ll miss the annual release of a new Dick Francis novel but I’ll always have a soft spot for the man whose writing has kept me company in countless crowded train stations, on innumerable rickety buses and on at least one felucca.