For pretty much as long as I can remember, Dick Francis books have been around, in every new and used bookstore or library - the unmistakeable design of the US hardcover editions features brightly colored covers, with a stylized horse or horses on the front, because every book includes horses: set in the world of horse racing, or horse breeding, or someone has a valuable horse that is in danger; in short, horses abound. And that's OK, because Mr. Francis started his career as a jump jockey, and was the Queen Mother's personal jockey for a number of years, and turned to racing journalism when he retired from steeplechasing.
About 5 years after he retired from racing, Francis came out with his first mystery novel, and for the next 38 years he published a book a year, developing a fan base that waited eagerly for the first week of October to see what he would deliver this
time. Sadly, in 2000 his wife Mary died, and it was revealed that she had always been his writing partner, even though her name never appeared on the cover. From 2000 to 2005 there were no new Dick Francis books, and I didn't anticipate he would ever publish again, so those of us who loved his stories would just have to re-read the ones already in existence. Over and over and over.
Then out of the blue (for me, at least) in 2006, there was a new Sid Halley book. I suspect that Francis went back to his most popular character (the only one who featured in multiple books, with the exception of the two Kit Fielding novels Break In
) because its enthusiastic reception would be pretty much guaranteed.Under Orders
doesn't quite rise to the level of the previous Sid Halley books, Odds Against
, Whip Hand
, and Come to Grief
, but it's still head and shoulders above much of the drivel that's published these days. It's like running into an old friend and discovering that you are still comfortable together and enjoy their company, despite many years of absence.
Sadly, the books since this, co-written with his son Felix (and later I'm sure written solely by Felix), have been disappointing to say the least.