RARA-AVIS: Re: RIP Dick Francis

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 16 Feb 2010

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    Jim wrote:

    > I just heard on another list that Dick Francis passed away.
    > I have a hard time calling Francis's work noir, but they sure as hell were hard-boiled. Heroes didn't come any tougher than the collection of working class jockeys, trainers, horse owners, rancher, private eyes, intelligence officers, who headlined Francis's novels


    In a genre where the notion of male toughness often boils down to a simplistic adolescent cartoon, Francis' heroes were real men. Tough? Yes, beyond a doubt, and certainly their adventures seemed larger than life, but those characters, those tough, competent professionals -- be they jockeys, photographers, private eyes or writers (almost always working class, as Jim shrewdly pointed out), were never less -- or more -- than human.

    When someone got hurt in a Francis novel, they really got hurt. It would take more than a slug of bourbon, a thick steak (medium rare) and the administrations of some bimbo to get back in the game.

    Perhaps it was his background as a professional athlete that gave him some special insight into pain and its effect on the human body, but more than that I think it was simply a master writer's over-riding compassion and understanding of the human condition. Having recently re-read ODDS AGAINST about six months ago, the first in the great Sid Halley series, I am once again struck by how keenly perceptive and understanding Francis was; in particular that of the physically disabled (and, in later years, the challenges of the elderly).

    But as dead-on and sharp as was his rendering of Sid, it was Francis' brief portrait of the secretary with the damaged face she kept to the wall in ODDS AGAINST that still haunts me.

    As far as I know, Francis was never a beautiful woman with a damaged face. Yet he knew. He fucking knew.

    it's often said of this or that writer that they "write thrillers for people who think" -- Francis wrote thrillers for people who could not only think, but could also feel.

    Glib cynicism and cheap nihilism is easy -- our genre is full of such examples. But real compassion, real understanding of and real respect for who and what we are and what we're capable of (both good and evil), is rare.

    Francis had that gift.

    He'll be missed.

    Kevin Burton Smith Editor/Founder The Thrilling Detective Web Site
    "Wasting your time on the web since 1998."

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