Deaths elsewhere

February 16, 2010|By Tribune Newspapers

DICK FRANCIS, 89

Best-selling British mystery writer

Dick Francis, a champion steeplechase jockey who became a best-selling British mystery writer, died of natural causes Sunday at his home in the Cayman Islands.

He wrote 42 novels, many featuring racing as a theme, after retiring from racing in 1957.

"I haven't suffered the same injuries as my characters, but I have suffered pain and I know it," he told the Los Angeles Times during a visit to Southern California in 1981. "I haven't suffered the mental anguish they have, either, but I know people who do, and I share their feelings."

Mr. Francis' first book, published in 1957, was his autobiography, "The Sport of Queens." His first novel, "Dead Cert," came out in 1962, and he followed up with another every year.

He also worked for years as a racing correspondent for Britain's Sunday Express.

In later years, Mr. Francis wrote novels with his son, Felix, including "Silks" (2008) and "Even Money" (2009). "Crossfire" will be published this year.

As a professional jockey, he won 345 of the more than 2,300 races he rode between 1948 and 1957.

His most famous moment in racing came just a few months before he retired. He was riding for Queen Elizabeth II, and his horse collapsed within reach of certain victory in the 1956 Grand National.

Mr. Francis told the BBC in 2006: "It was a terrible thing, but I look back on it now and I can say that if it hadn't happened, I might never have written a book, and my books have certainly helped keep the wolf from the door."

Mr. Francis stopped riding professionally after numerous injuries at age 35.

Mr. Francis won three Edgar Allan Poe awards from the Mystery Writers of America for his novels "Forfeit" (1968), "Whip Hand" (1979) and "Come to Grief" (1995).

He also was awarded a Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers' Association. The association made him a Grand Master in 1996 for his lifetime achievement.

The queen, whose mother was among his many readers, made him a Commander of the British Empire in 2000.

An unauthorized biography suggested that his wife, Mary Francis, who died in 2000, wrote substantial portions of the popular novels. Mr. Francis had often praised his wife as an editor and researcher.

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