Rereading Dick Francis: the Top Ten!

0430 SOCIAL Racing[The essay for which this reading was preparation was Spinster, Victim, Soldier, Spy: Dick Francis and the Evolution of Female Characters in Crime Fiction, published in the Los Angeles Review of Books in 2013.]

I have been binge-reading Dick Francis in service of an essay project that is steadily, if a bit stumblingly, heading towards completion. One question I’ve been asked pretty often when I mention that I’m doing this is “Which Dick Francis novels are your favorites?” A variation on this is “If I haven’t read any Dick Francis before, which one(s) should I start with?” You might think that, with so many books with so much in common, the worst time to answer these questions is right now, before the dust has really settled. On the other hand, the differences have never been — and probably never will be again — as clear in my mind as they are now. Interestingly, too, there are definitely standouts for me — and I think there are a couple of duds, too. And so, without further ado, here’s my Top Ten list.

10. Nerve (1964): Rob Finn, the lone jockey in a family of musicians, faces off against a malevolent villain driven by obsessive hatred of jockeys. The motive and thus the plot is a bit strained, but the book is brisk and suspenseful, and Rob Finn is a good early prototype of what becomes the classic Dick Francis hero.

8. and 9. Break In (1985) and Bolt (1986): Both feature jockey Kit Fielding, one of only two repeaters in Francis’s cast of characters. Kit is a good character, worth revisiting, and over the two books we get an interesting narrative arc involving his relationship with Danielle, niece of Kit’s patron, the excellent Princess Casilia. Racing is central to these books, as it is to Nerve, and Francis writes with great energy and great sympathy about horses and their riders.

7. Banker (1982): Here our hero is investment banker Tim Ekaterin, who gets a different return than he expects when he puts money into a race horse. Banker features one of Francis’s many strong women characters, here a pharmacist whose expertise proves essential to solving the case.

6. To the Hilt (1996): This time our hero is painter Alexander Kinloch, who prefers the solitude of the Highland mountains to life in society but is drawn into a thicket of family and corporate villainy. I’m particularly fond of this one, partly because the details about painting are fascinating, partly because of Alexander himself, and partly because of, again, the strong women characters. The most interesting one this time is Zoë Lang, a fierce 80-year-old expert on all things antique and Scottish. I can’t at all picture the portrait of her that Alexander eventually paints, and I don’t know if the technique described is even possible, but she believes he has made her “immortal.”

proof5. Proof (1984): In this one, Tony Beach, wine merchant, is on the site of a terrible accident and ends up drawn into its causes and facing off against some of Francis’s most cold-blooded villains (I’ll just say plaster of Paris and leave it at that). The investigation includes a lot of drinking — mostly scotch, and we get a lot of expert information about how it’s made and how to tell one kind from another. Tony is one of Francis’s best characters: a widower, he is broken with grief for his lost wife, while as the son of a military man, he is painfully conscious that he isn’t living up to his father’s standard of courage and masculinity.

4. Reflex (1980): Reflex features Philip Nore, jockey and amateur photographer, who gets caught up in a complicated tangle of blackmail and murder. A lot of the plot turns on his ability to solve photographic puzzles — so, again, the expert information is intrinsically interesting. But so, too, are the characters, including Philip himself, with his unusual family history, and his eventual love-interest, ambitious publisher Clare.

whiphand2. and 3. Whip Hand (1979) and Come to Grief (1995): There’s a good case to be made for ranking at least one of these as Number 1. The protagonist in both is former-jockey-turned-private-eye Sid Halley, who actually appears in four books altogether. The first, Odds Against, is also quite good, but the last one, Under Orders (2006) is one of only two Dick Francis novels that I consider real duds (the other is Blood Sport). Sid is Francis’s best-developed and most complex and interesting character, the array of secondary characters is robust and, again, interesting, and the plots are among Francis’s best. The title Whip Hand alludes to Sid’s greatest weakness: before Odds Against begins, his left hand was badly damaged in a racing accident, forcing his retirement; I won’t give away exactly what happens, but in the next two books he has a prosthetic left hand and greatly fears damaging or losing his right one. His blend of persistent, almost obstinate courage with soul-crushing weakness takes the typical qualities of the Dick Francis hero — always very human, never a superhero — to an extreme.

1. Straight (1989): It’s possible that Straight is not in fact the best Dick Francis novel, but it is certainly my favorite. The hero, steeplechase jockey Derek Franklin, inherits all of his brother Greville’s problems along with his business. Greville was a gemstone dealer, and so this time the expert information includes lots of tidbits about jewels and their composition and value. Derek is another good character, strong and likable and principled; his regrets over not having known his brother better add a bittersweet tenderness to the story as it unfolds. It’s still a thriller, but it’s also a good novel about people and their complicated mixed motives.

straightSo there they are: my top ten! No doubt this list reflects my taste as much as any objective standard of quality. Also, surprisingly many others stood up very well to rereading, including sentimental favorite The Edge (which takes place on a ‘mystery’ train across Canada), Decider (I especially enjoy the insights into architecture and building), Twice Shy (which has not one but two protagonists for our crime fighting pleasure), Shattered (with lots of fascinating insight into glass-blowing) and Hot Money (which is the closest of them all to a ratiocinative mystery).

If you’re also a fan, what do you think – is my top ten close to yours? Have I skipped over a favorite? And if you’re not (yet) a Dick Francis reader, are you tempted? Be sure to report back if you read one (or more) that I’ve recommended.

88 thoughts on “Rereading Dick Francis: the Top Ten!

  1. Aven June 18, 2013 / 10:51 pm

    I haven’t read them in close enough proximity to declare a definitive favourite, but I agree that Straight is one of my favourites, as are the Sid Halley stories. And I do like Edge, of course! I remember liking the one with the outdoor survivalist protagonist (I never remember the titles) for the interesting specialty & the very human relationship with the kids. Those are what spring to mind at the moment.


  2. Rohan June 18, 2013 / 10:58 pm

    That’s Longshot — another good one.


    • Martini December 5, 2020 / 4:27 am

      Rohan No mention of Forfeit ? Which means you surely cant have read it ?


      • Rohan Maitzen December 5, 2020 / 9:10 am

        Oh, I read them all! Every single one. It just didn’t make my top 10 (at that time, anyway).


  3. Amateur Reader (Tom) June 19, 2013 / 1:13 am

    7 out of 10 from the 1979-1989, and then you mention three of the four other 1980s novels in your supplement. So: strong period for Francis, I guess.

    Only one book from the 1960s, when he was getting a lot of attention from the Edgars.

    I’ve never read Francis! I should. But I enjoy sorting out a writer’s career.


    • Rohan Maitzen June 19, 2013 / 8:30 am

      A lot of attention, but no win, I think, until 1968 (Forfeit, which is indeed quite good — there aren’t many that I think are no good, assuming you like the kind of books these are). Both Whip Hand and Come to Grief won Edgars. The early ones have good things about them but are more hit or miss, with the characters as well as the plots. But the other thing is (and here it’s just a preference) I just really enjoy the ones that explore an interesting line of work. It turns out that’s something I like in romances too: even Nora Roberts’s cloying Bride Quartet had some appeal because I liked learning about what it’s like to be a florist or a pastry chef. (In Nora Roberts, however, nobody is ever burned on a heated BBQ grill — the violence in Francis’s novels, though episodic, can be quite … intense.)


  4. Victoria Janssen June 19, 2013 / 10:16 am

    Your top ten has most of my favorites in it! Some other faves of mine: FOR KICKS, even though it has some really dated gender stuff, because I love the disguised undercover hero. ENQUIRY, because it was the first Francis novel I ever read, and made me fall in love with his work. TWICE SHY because physics teacher hero plus target-shooting neep. And DECIDER, because I loved all the architecture neep. Clearly, the neepery of whatever sort is a huge reason I love these books.

    Francis is one of those authors whose books I’ve re-read many times…but I haven’t re-read any of them in a long time. Maybe I should dig my collection out of its box.


    • Rohan June 19, 2013 / 11:37 am

      “Neepery” is a new word to me but clearly one I need to know and use!


  5. Dorian Stuber June 19, 2013 / 1:24 pm

    Can you give someone like me, who has never read Francis and indeed until now had never even considered the possibility, a brief sense of what these books are like? I know that’s the point of your piece–but just a one or two sentence description would be interesting. Sounds like the “neepery” (new favourite word!) is important.


  6. Rohan Maitzen June 19, 2013 / 2:08 pm

    Well, let’s see. They are thrillers, and they follow a predictable but effective (or, a predictable and effective?) formula: there’s a crisis, and the hero is drawn into it, often inadvertantly (only a few of them, including Sid Halley, are in any sense professional crime fighters). He (always he) finds himself facing off against villains capable of every manner of skullduggery, from racing fraud to blackmail and murder. For readers of detective fiction, this is a familiar pattern except that there’s less ratiocination, and instead of (or as well as) a “reveal” we get a final confrontation, which is often quite violent.

    How are the books distinctive? One aspect (which I’m not going to be able to get into my essay except perhaps glancingly!) is the way Francis summons up the world of horses and racing: it’s vivid and detailed but also full of evidence of his own deep respect and love for horses. Here’s a snippet from Twice Shy as a sample:

    “I loved the Heath in the early mornings with the manes blowing under the wide skies. My affection for horses was so deep and went back so far that I couldn’t imagine life without them. They were a friendly foreign nation living in our land, letting their human neighbours tend them and feed them, accepting them as servants as much as masters. Fast, fascinating, essentially untamed, they were my landscape, my old shoes, the place to where my heart returned, as necessary to me as the sea to sailors.”

    Then there’s the consistency of the hero character (something I’m writing about) and the presence of lots of strong female characters (also something I’m writing about!). And the “neepery.” There are lots of other little interesting things from novel to novel — and some annoying things — but basically they are good, solid, literate genre fiction with horses.


    • Dorian Stuber June 19, 2013 / 11:30 pm

      Most helpful! And inching me towards trying them out. I think I just don’t like horses, is my problem.


      • Rohan Maitzen June 20, 2013 / 9:16 am

        John Leonard in the NY Times, 1981: “Not to read Dick Francis because you don’t like horses is like not reading Dostoyevsky because you don’t like God.”


        • Dorian Stuber June 20, 2013 / 3:40 pm

          ok, ok!


  7. Teresa June 19, 2013 / 9:31 pm

    It has been ages and ages since I read any Dick Francis. I read a bunch back in the mid-90s, when I was reading almost nothing but detective fiction, but I mostly can’t remember which ones. I do remember loving Whip Hand and Come to Grief, and a lot of the titles on your list are familiar, so I probably read those too. You make me want to revisit them!


  8. Janet W June 19, 2013 / 10:11 pm

    I don’t believe this–I don’t think I’ve read Straight, and I thought I had read them all. I like many of your top ten books but there are others there that linger–perhaps I need to do a massive re-read too. Off to get Straight!


  9. Leslie Howsam June 19, 2013 / 10:32 pm

    Your top 10 are all favorites of mine. I like the strong female characters, and more generally the way he handles relationships. (except his character often has a problem with something he calls ‘feminism’). And the ‘neepery’ (everyone’s new word!) keeps him going when the horses might pall. For many years, there was a new one every autumn, and sometimes in late summer you’d get it at Heathrow to read on the way home, before it ever came out in Canada. That regularity was deeply satisfying.


    • Dorian Stuber June 19, 2013 / 11:29 pm

      I totally know what you mean about that satisfying regularity. I used to be that way about Andrea Camilleri, until the repetitions seemed threadbare rather than comforting.


      • Sarah June 20, 2013 / 12:18 am

        High Stakes and Risk are both favourites, and I enjoy Shattered.


        • Rohan Maitzen June 20, 2013 / 9:18 am

          Both also very good ones! I like the toys in High Stakes. Risk has another of his interesting older women characters – that older women are often underestimated is a recurring motif.


  10. Jenny June 20, 2013 / 6:14 pm

    These are all the same ones I would have chosen for the top ten, with the exception of To the Hilt, which I either haven’t read or don’t remember at all. I might replace it with Driving Force, just for that last scene. Otherwise, this is an absolutely flawless collection. I’d push Proof above Reflex, but that’s because I like wine more than photography.

    I like Decider a lot, too. Oh, it’s been ages since I read Dick Francis, even though I own a lot of his books. I ought to go back and read some more. Thank you, Rohan!


    • Jenny June 20, 2013 / 6:21 pm

      Oh and Dead Cert is really good, too. I’d better quit while I’m not reading the entire back catalog…


      • Rohan June 20, 2013 / 6:28 pm

        I could easily be brought to agree about Proof and Reflex. The whole idea of ranking is kind of arbitrary anyway! But it is kind of fun nonetheless. With the exception of the two I considered “duds,” I basically like them all — even though some of them have some ideological wobbles that make them harder to really like. I seem to have privileged the less horsey ones here, which isn’t entirely fair.


      • Rohan June 20, 2013 / 6:31 pm

        Also, as you can probably tell, I’d certainly recommend To the Hilt. It’s one of the ones (along with Straight) that I’ve reread the most often.


        • Beatrice D Foley May 3, 2021 / 1:16 pm

          You may not see this since it’s now 2021! I love To the Hilt – I have a quote from it on a sign by my door in the western Adirondack mountains: “Cool, fresh, a promise of mountains.” So true in my part of upstate NY!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Rohan Maitzen May 6, 2021 / 3:04 pm

            I did see it, and I appreciate it: that’s a very nice line, I agree!


  11. Dee August 8, 2013 / 1:24 am

    A great list containing all my favorites: Break In, Bolt, Banker, Proof. But you left off the one which I re-read at least once a year: The Danger!


  12. Tom March 22, 2015 / 1:37 am

    My favorites are Rat Race, Straight and Banker. I’ve read them several times each.


  13. Rinaldo April 11, 2015 / 10:02 pm

    I love Straight too, but every time I reread it and reach the end, I wish that Francis had written just one more chapter — an epilogue telling us just what happened the following morning, and the details of how things worked out. I know we’re supposed to be able to imagine it now that we know everything, but the characters have been brought so alive, I want just that bit more of them, and the reassurance that all was well.


  14. Traci McDonough November 21, 2015 / 10:03 pm

    I see this is a relatively older article, but this seems the best place I’ve found to have an overpowering curiosity assuaged. I had lunch with a friend who talked about Dick Francis books and I was embarrassed that I was unaware of this prolific author. He challenged me to find his favorite book by the author but he had very few details. The scene he seemed very fascinated by was apparently where the main character is at a hotel (my friend believed it was in Africa) and was betting on some sort of race where the bet was which of the animals (not turtles, but he couldn’t remember what – something similar he thought) would be the last to leave a circle in which they were all contained. It was believed the bell hop liked the main character because he was a big tipper and when he asked the bell hop for a tip on the race, the bell hop suggested on of the “creatures” wasn’t looking so well and perhaps he should bet on that one. He did indeed bet on that one and it turned out that one had been dead all along thus making his bet an actual sure thing. My friend seemed to think the word “Dead” was in the title and he read it a long time ago (he’s 74 but I don’t know what defines a long time ago to him) and after researching for a couple of hours, the Dick Francis books containing the word “Dead” in the title that seemed to be from a long while back were few and I could find absolutely no reference to this race, watched from the character’s hotel balcony. My friend may very well be confusing the title, the setting, any number of things – but seems certain that Dick Francis was the author. I wish to help my friend on his quest to remember this book as he would like to read it again. Given the amount of books Dick Francis wrote, I simply haven’t the time to read them all in search of this particular scene. I suppose it seems like cheating to ask someone who has already done the work, but in desperation, I will…Can you help? Any information will be appreciated and if you can help, I, too, will read the book with pleasure. Thank you!!


    • Rohan Maitzen November 22, 2015 / 12:20 pm

      Traci, I have to say that the scene your friend describes rings no bell at all, and hardly even sounds like something that would occur in a Dick Francis plot (the main character being a big tipper, for example – his protagonists are rarely high rollers). There are a lot of novels and my read-through of the complete series was a couple of years ago now — plus I was thinking about different issues — so I could just have forgotten it. I looked over the spreadsheet I made up while working on the Los Angeles Review of Books essay, and it reminds me that Smokescreen is set in South Africa and the hero is a film star — that might be one to take a look at, since the setting fits and the hero might have $$ to be a big tipper.


      • Traci McDonough November 22, 2015 / 2:59 pm

        Thank you so much for your quick reply! After doing as much research as I could from this out-of-date laptop, I had kind or reached the same conclusion about him perhaps confusing two different books and authors with similar plots. He remembered the author being a jockey before he began writing and most details were correct, but I could find no correlation between that little scenario he described and any book by Dick Francis. I did turn up several plot summaries for “Smokescreen” when I added the word “Africa” to my searches, but it did not turn up any of the other details mentioned.

        I will let him know I spoke to someone who is “in the know” on such matters and perhaps we can come up with his fondly remembered subplot in another book by a different author. He reads voraciously and since it’s been some time ago, I believe he is running two stories together in his mind.

        Meanwhile, think I will buy him the book of short stories by Dick Francis for Christmas, he mentioned he hadn’t read that one, and perhaps he will remember the book he’s looking for serendipitously. He does that quite often as a general rule.

        Again, I thank you for you prompt attention to my question!!

        Traci McDonough


  15. Rick March 4, 2016 / 4:53 pm

    Does anyone remember which book has the older woman, a horse owner, who is in love with her younger trainer, who turns out to con her by paying more than the initial asking price when he buys horses for her? She catches on, faces up to her humiliation, and confronts him. It’s a minor storyline, I think the book is mostly about some other trickery of the trainers.


    • Robert Craig December 4, 2019 / 7:22 am



  16. Nancy March 8, 2016 / 2:09 am


    I believe you are referring to “Spring Fever” a short story that first appeared in “Women’s Own” magazine and is part of the book Field of Thirteen.

    My top 10 would have to include Smokescreen, High Stakes and Dead Cert over To the Hilt, Straight and Nerve. I love the plot and the way the ensemble of characters hang together in these three. Otherwise I agree on the others as hard as it is to narrow down to 10. I love the “neepery” as long as it doesn’t impede the plot. In Banker, Proof and Reflex the details of the different industries is phenomenally well woven in and they all have great characters and stories to boot. And have to include Princess Casilia and Kit Fielding for a wonderful blend of powerful stories and horse racing. Have to agree with everything you said about Sid Halley as well. I just read all the Sid books in order and it is wonderful how he continues to develop in each book.


  17. Lynn March 11, 2016 / 11:38 pm

    I love reading Dick Francis. I have read most of his books. I just finished reading ” Bonecrack” and thoroughly enjoyed it


  18. Vicki October 20, 2016 / 3:36 am

    Does anyone know which book features the hero who went to, I think, Loughbrough uni, where he designed his own course on ‘the causes of war’ or a similar theme?


    • Rohan Maitzen October 20, 2016 / 9:24 pm

      Vicki, I went through the spreadsheet where I kept notes while working on my LARB essay, and I don’t find a plot summary that mentions either of those specifics. The only one that my notes indicate including any kind of teacher is 1981’s Twice Shy, but I don’t know if “the causes of war” comes up.


  19. Mary November 26, 2016 / 9:40 am

    I think it’s Enquiry; you are describing the protagonist jockey who was framed and consequently lost his licence for fixing a race.


    • Vicki February 13, 2017 / 8:08 am

      Finally re-read the books in order and found the answer. It’s ‘Straight’. Lancaster Uni not Loughborough. and the course was ‘Independent Studies’ and the topic ‘Roots and Results of war’.
      Thank you everyone for the suggestions.


  20. Marty November 28, 2016 / 12:08 am

    I started reading the Dick Francis mysteries years and years ago, and eventually I got my dad to start reading them, and it became a sort of (rare) “father-son” thing we did, waiting to read the latest books as they came out – a memory I cherish now that my dad is gone. Francis’ turn of the phrase, decent morality and empathy for the human condition were all draws for us. The “neepery” was usually cool though sometimes a bit too detailed for my liking. It is a shame that, in re-reading some of the earlier books, their take on hippies or homosexuals (as they are called) etc. makes them seemed quite dated – a shame because otherwise the plots and writing are largely still compelling. You almost wish someone could update them ever so lightly to make them more appropriate to modern readers. Anyway, the point I wanted to make was that I think they are excellent “young adult” books. My 16-year-old son has been reading them for 5 years now and has written several book reports for school on them over the years. The protagonists are great role models and there is very little bad language; there is a bit of sex but it is very modest by modern standards, and certainly not anything a teenager hasn’t come across in other forums to be sure! So I like the thought of my son perhaps encouraging his future son or daughter to read these books in 20-30 years’ time, and keeping up the tradition in my family.
    BTW just re-read Reflex over Thanksgiving and loved it – in part because the protagonist is only beat up once. The ones where is he beat up or nearly killed 4 or more times strains my sense of realism, but that is a small price to pay for the delight these books can bring.


    • Rohan Maitzen November 28, 2016 / 7:41 pm

      Thank you so much for this comment, Marty. I started reading Dick Francis’s novels because my parents read them — so far, though, I have not managed to get either of my own children interested. I hope it’s not an enthusiasm that dies out with me!

      One way in which I find DF particularly admirable is in his exploration of gender roles: that’s what the essay mentioned here was about, and here’s a link to it, in case you’re interested.


      • Marty November 30, 2016 / 12:58 pm

        Thanks for the link, Rohan. Good stuff. Given the early vintage of many of the books in the series, it is indeed remarkable that Francis did not fall into the stereotypical macho male/femme fetale-helpless female-decorative ornament duality seen so many times elsewhere in the mystery/action genre.

        That said, I do think it would have been really interesting had Francis made the central protagonist of one of his books female – oh well.


  21. Dennis November 30, 2016 / 6:06 am

    Can you help with the title of the book where a model railroad timetable is a de facto computer?


    • Paul March 4, 2020 / 10:32 am

      Its not Dick Francis, its Desmond Bagley. I think its called ‘The Enemy”


    • Nicola May 7, 2022 / 4:12 pm

      I thought it was a Dick Francis one too. It isn’t the Desmond Bagley though. I vaguely think that it had to do with a peer, his grandson, and a bomb!


      • essbee231 June 29, 2022 / 6:11 pm

        Rat Race is what you’re looking for…


  22. Katy March 15, 2017 / 2:44 am

    1. For Kicks. Despite one truly awful plotline involving the dated gender stuff that someone mentioned upthread, I find it miles more compelling than all the rest. It’s partly the undercover plot, I think, and partly the fairly convincing details about what it’s like to work in a seedy, disreputable stable for an abusive boss, with no prospect of going on to anything better. It’s a side of racing that you don’t usually see in Dick Francis novels.

    Others I like, in no particular order: Dead Cert, High Stakes, Smokescreen, Forfeit, In the Frame, Nerve, Enquiry, and the first Sid Halley book. And I think Rat Race, unless I’m mixing it up with another plane-related book.


  23. Matt June 18, 2017 / 12:32 pm

    Ive just discovered Dick Francis, just reading my 3rd one now (Proof) having started with Dead Cert and followed that up with Blood Sport. Surprised that you describe Blood Sport as a ‘dud’, I thought it was great!


    • Rohan Maitzen June 18, 2017 / 9:22 pm

      Matt – what a lot of happy reading lies ahead for you! I can’t remember now what I didn’t like about Blood Sport (I haven’t reread it since reading them all through for the essay) — but it may be that it just didn’t hold up to the competition. Who knows: once you’ve read the rest of them, you may put it near the bottom of your list too, or not!


      • Julia January 16, 2021 / 9:46 pm

        I’m late to this conversation but just had to make a comment on this title. For me, the people in Dick Francis’ books are alive – and (unusually for me because since I’m female I generally don’t care for male ‘I’ [first-person] books) I AM the protagonist, I become the hero, I feel his emotions and frustrations, and am totally involved in “being” him. I don’t remember how long I’ve been reading his books, but I’m 76 and have been reading them for at least 30 years; since first finding one of his stories I’ve collected them all … first in paperbacks (hardbacks too heavy and hard to hold) then on cassettes and finally in audible format so I can listen on my phone (which is beneficial, as I can do chores, etc., while listening, whereas the only other thing I can do while reading a physical book is … eat! 😀 ).
        In this story, I always cry when Walt dies, even though I know it’s coming; same with Ginny in “Banker”, and others of his characters. And I’m always upset when the stories finish – I wish they could go on longer and longer. Granted, there are some of his books I don’t care as much for, but I would read my whole library of them at least once a year (totally ignoring household duties!), and nowadays re-listen at least yearly; unfortunately, there are some that aren’t sold on CD or in audible format … SO frustrating!
        But … Dick Francis is my FAVORITE author; so sorry he’s not still with us, crafting more great tales!


        • Mary Critchley February 2, 2021 / 12:54 pm

          I agree with all you say here, Julia
          I wonder if it’s only our generation that feels genuinely upset by things such as the death of Ginny.
          These books are such a relief from the horrible times we’re living through at the moment. You’re so right about listening while doing chores! My favourites? Longshot is really excellent, moving fast and with a thoroughly likeable and “grown up” hero, the outdoor survivalist who is modest and quite funny I think my own favourite may be Decider. The hero is a father of six young boys and the action is fast and furious, while the tone is gentle.


  24. Victoria September 20, 2017 / 9:39 pm

    Well I just came across this thread on DF’s books. Just read my first one and was googling him to see what other books he has written. I have a lot to read, and will be starting with the top ones mentioned here! Decider was my first book loved it, loved the childrens and father’s characters.


  25. Ben October 23, 2017 / 3:53 pm

    I’m fond of Shattered, Dead Cert, 10 Lb Penalty, Longshot, Nerve, Driving Force…the first DF book I read was Straight, and that remains my favorite. I’d guess I’ve read fifteen of his books, and enjoyed them all. My favorite part is getting to know the protagonists. I learn to love them, and when I finish each book I’m left wishing for more.


  26. Joan C December 10, 2017 / 12:40 am

    When I first started reading DF in the late sixties, what attracted me was the first person approach that seemed novel to me at the time. One reason the main characters are male, I guess. I have read and re- read all of them and just don’t get tired of them. I love the flying themes and the details woven into the story. I got my Dad and brother, both gone now, to read them and greatly enjoyed sharing thoughts and reactions with them. My daughters both have read some over the years, too. Funny, the one book I haven’t cared for is The Edge. Fun to read thru this and share DF thoughts.


  27. Anonymous December 25, 2017 / 7:57 pm

    I would start a new reader with Odds Against. First book in the series of 4 with most popular character. I like it for all the regular reasons but one rxtra reason is the start of the book reminds me of Inspector Grant in hospital in Daughter of Time.


  28. flo July 20, 2018 / 11:49 pm

    Being a former Animal Health Technician, (registered veterinary tech), Comeback has been my fave so far. Been years since I read them but did pick up Comeback last week and am enjoying it.


  29. Betsy Rosen August 22, 2018 / 10:29 pm

    I’m a horse lover, not a thriller fan. Which of Francis’ books has the best descriptions of actual horses and actual races?


    • Rohan Maitzen August 23, 2018 / 10:10 am

      Since I’m not really independently knowledgeable about horses or racing, I don’t know that I can confidently say which are best in the sense of most accurate! Racing and horses feature one way or another in all of the books and I always find his descriptions very evocative. You can tell he really loves and respects horses. I can say that the earlier novels tend to be more directly about horses and races, and over time the stories drift a bit away from the sport, so that it’s often more peripheral to the main character’s other work. You might try Break In and Bolt (my numbers 8 & 9 above), which both feature a jockey as the main character.


  30. Doris Waddington October 15, 2018 / 1:55 am

    Rohan, I see you’re still getting comments so I’ll add mine. There are still so many Dick Francis fans around. I started reading his books around 1982 when visiting my family and my Dad, now deceased, was an avid fan. I have read the DF books through at least twice. My favorite is Banker and the Sid Halley books. I never disliked any, though, I do agree that a few were slightly less exciting. I’m so glad I ran across your article when looking to find out the order of the Sid Halley books as want to buy and send to my son for Christmas. Your synopsis of the others you mentioned was also helpful since he is interested in wine so I will send “Proof” also. I’m hoping to get him addicted to my favorite books!
    Still don’t know what a neep or neepery is? My American Dictionary has no definition for neepery and indicates a neep to be a turnip!
    Thanks for the article and I enjoyed all the comments posted also.


    • Rohan Maitzen October 15, 2018 / 10:03 am

      Thanks for your comment, Doris! I love that this post continues to be my most-read. I hope your son enjoys Proof!


  31. ek April 17, 2019 / 11:59 pm

    There’s nothing more I enjoy than re-reading a Dick Francis novel. My personal favorite is For Kicks. I love it that the hero takes on the dangerous assignment “for kicks” just because he is bored.

    Are there any other similar authors anyone can recommend?


    • Pippin February 15, 2021 / 5:33 pm

      I don’t read a lot of mystery, but the closest thing that I am familiar with is the Bruno Chief of Police series by Martin Walker. Same detective throughout, but lots of variety in the stories and horses to come in to the stories from time to time – not race horses tho.


  32. Karen July 6, 2019 / 2:38 pm

    I’ve been reading and rereading Dick Francis books for over 30 years and love them. He’s probably my favourite author. I appreciate the consistent high quality – it’s rare to have that many books and just a couple considered less exciting than the others. Many of the books you’ve listed are among my favourites. The Danger is among the top books for me along with The Banker, Hot Money, Twice Shy, Shattered, Proof, the Sid Halley and Kit Fielding books, Dead Cert (the scene escaping the taxi drivers!), High Stakes, Risk, Longshot.


  33. Allison S July 31, 2019 / 5:09 pm

    I’ve been reading Dick Francis’ books since I found one in the Reader’s Digest Condensed books in the ’70s. There was a waiting list at the library when the new one came out. I can’t tell you what joy they’ve brought me over the years. I believe I’ve read, and re-read them all, over and over. I was so happy when his son, Felix got him writing again and then picked up the mantel after Dick died. One thing that always impressed me was that his protagonists were always accepting of differences in others, provided it hurt no one.


    • Rohan Maitzen July 31, 2019 / 6:27 pm

      I have reread them so many times too. I agree about the protagonists. In my essay I focused especially on his older women characters too: though his heroes are always men, they so often benefit from the wisdom and strength of older women. Felix is doing a good job carrying the torch!


    • Cathryn P. December 25, 2022 / 3:48 am

      I too read my first DF in the Reader’s Digest (Nerve), and just continued on. I have recently begun re-reading them. Trying to remember which one has the protagonist sleuthing in racecourse in Maryland. In one scene, he has been stripped of his clothing and tied to a tree. After many hours, he frees himself… My problem with this scene is that the action takes place in November near Baltimore MD. He would have been greatly affected by hypothermia, since even in a very mild spell, naked in November is not good.


      • Rohan Maitzen December 25, 2022 / 4:27 pm

        Fair enough, but at the same time, if we dismissed every writer who takes some liberties with specifics of time and place to serve their own purposes, well, not many would remain! I figure if we can pretend Stars Hollow is in Connecticut and not (as is sometimes very obvious) in California, we can extend the same charity to DF. 🙂


        • Cathy P. December 25, 2022 / 7:59 pm

          I usually do allow for creative license, but DF is usually pretty good in his details that it just seems to be out of character for him.


  34. B Spieth October 21, 2019 / 10:10 pm

    I think both the Edge and the Danger belong on the best 10 list. Although I am not sure which ones of yours I would remove for them. I think Break-in is a lot better than Bolt, however. Of the very early books (60s), Blood Sport is very good.


  35. Sue February 20, 2020 / 5:28 am

    I don’t remember the year, but I first found Dick Francis in a Readers digest condensed book. It was The Banker. Possibly forty years ago. I enjoyed the story, the writing style, the then unfamiliar Britishisms…I think I now own all of his books, some hardbacks, many paperbacks, mostly used. And yes, I particularly enjoy the neepery. (Had to Google that one!)


  36. Deborah Buzan February 25, 2020 / 1:10 pm

    You wrote about reading his novels. I have been listening to them for years, having gone through the list more than twice by now. The appeal is not only the really fine writing and stories, but Tony Britton’s masterful reading. I’ve listened to lots of other books but have yet to find a narrator who’s a patch on Tony Britton. He died recently.


    • Rohan Maitzen February 26, 2020 / 10:29 am

      That’s a great recommendation, Deborah! I don’t currently listen to a lot of audiobooks, but if I did I think I would enjoy revisiting some Dick Francis favorites because they’d move along so briskly. It’s good to know there are good options.


    • Sekhar GC May 21, 2020 / 1:20 am

      Wow. I didn’t even know we could listen to his books.

      I love his (Dick francis’s) English. Probably seems drab to the English folks, though; but for me- every page made me smile. And I liked way my speech tended to the flowery for a few days after reading one of his books.

      Barring a couple, I have read them all.
      Not easy to pick a top ten- an enviable task. I rate a book by its ability to be “unputdownable” and I must admit there were more than 20 books of his that kept me riveted.

      Thanks for the thread and I enjoyed reading the comments as well.


  37. Bill August 2, 2020 / 9:36 am

    As with a few other author with multiple titles, it sometimes seems, the first book you picked up and read is a
    favorite forever. Wondering if this holds true for your DF reading.


    • Rohan Maitzen August 2, 2020 / 2:39 pm

      You know, I can’t actually say because I started reading them so long ago I don’t remember which one I read first. Actually, I guess that sort of answers the question, because my current favorites are among his later ones, so they can’t have been the first ones I read.


  38. Kathleen August 6, 2020 / 2:59 pm

    Yeah! I’ve found my true community!
    My favs are Bolt and Break In. I love Kit Fielding. I remember reading about the twin connection with his sister when I was a teenager. I now have twins myself. I had the honor of meeting Dick Francis when he was in Toronto for a book signing. I asked him if he’d got another Kit Fielding book in the works and he looked at me me like it was a common question.

    I’ve just finished Flying Finish. It’s a weird one. Not exactly bad, but hero is over the top, even for Dick.


    • Rohan Maitzen August 8, 2020 / 7:40 am

      That’s so cool that you met him! I agree that Kit Fielding is a really good character.

      It always makes me happy that people still come by to comment on this post. Obviously I am not the only one Dick Francis has been a ‘comfort read’ for over the years.


  39. Julia January 16, 2021 / 10:36 pm

    Love Dick Francis books. I have them all in paperback, most in danger of falling apart because I would read them all at least once a year since first finding them … I don’t remember exactly when that was, but at least 35 years ago. Now that I’ve got them in voice format I can really enjoy listening to that great British narration (Simon Prebble is AWESOME), which gives me so much more enjoyment than the physical book, as there is so much more and different emphasis in the spoken version – emphasis that I didn’t ‘hear’ when reading the paper copy. Unfortunately only about 29 are available on CD or in audible format – at least in the U.S.; before my husband died (2019) I’d actually contemplated him paying for a trip to England for me just so I could get the CD versions that weren’t available to U.S. buyers online! 🙂

    Anyway, to address the ‘top ten’ subject, I recently typed up a chart of “read in this order” for his books – starting with my least favorite and saving the best for last. So, MY top ten are, starting with #10, Flying Finish, Blood Sport, Reflex, In the Frame, Proof, Banker, Driving Force, Comeback, Straight, and Longshot. However, as I go through reading or listening every year, I’ll say “Well, I guess THIS one is my most favorite,” then read another and decide “No, THIS one is the best,” and so on … it’s SO hard to decide. And quite a few others should also qualify for my Top Ten: High Stakes (so much ingenuity in the “switch” plan!), Smokescreen, To the Hilt, Forfeit, For Kicks, The Danger, Rat Race, The Edge, Decider … and of course Hot Money. … I think I need a Top Thirty list instead. 😀

    Thanks for a great article, and a place to say how much I enjoy Mr. Francis’ books, and to read that he’s been a favorite with so many other people for such long times; I’m so glad I found him all those years ago!

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Rohan Maitzen January 17, 2021 / 10:34 am

    Thank you so much for your comments, Julia! I reread Francis regularly as well and my list of favorites is much longer than 10 too.


    • Deborah Buzan January 17, 2021 / 11:54 am

      Tony Britton, a very good actor, is the best narrator by far in my book. Women aren’t his forte, but accents and expression are.


  41. Peter Armstrong April 9, 2021 / 6:30 pm

    Have read all of the Dick Francis books, many several times over.
    Favorite is Banker, others I favor include Straight, Reflex, Risk, Flying Finish, The Danger, The Edge, Blood Sport, and To The Hilt.
    Decider and Driving Force are, for whatever reasons, the only two I don’t think I’d read again.

    Had the opportunity twice to see him twice at a store called Mystery Books (now defunct) at DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C., and it was a pleasure!


  42. Susan Murphy June 20, 2021 / 11:14 am

    I have read and re-read Dick Francis books since I was in my early twenties. Hard to believe I’m 60 now. I loved reading this thread and stumbled upon it while looking up reviews of Twice Shy. I have been listening to Francis audiobooks while I go about house work or doing a craft of some sort. I gave Twice Shy a chance because I’ve read and re-read all of his books except for Twice Shy. It drags and doesn’t have the intrigue and pace of the others.

    For my tops, I would agree with so many opinions. I love Sid Halley books, loved Enquiry, Banker, Proof, definitely Straight and Hot Money too.

    I wondered if anyone has read the Felix books? I fear I will be disappointed so other than the one they first wrote together, did not read further.


    • Deborah Buzan June 20, 2021 / 3:01 pm

      I love listening to Tony Britton reading Dick Frances books. Felix doesn’t have the same talent for making characters and scenes come to life and I haven’t warmed to the narrators either. But I love re-listening to Dick Frances books and recently especially enjoyed ‘For Kicks’.


      • Cathy P. December 25, 2022 / 4:03 am

        I’ve read all of DF’s books, including the ones with Felix. I read several of Felix’s solo books, but stopped after about 4 of them. I think it’s because in a couple of them, he had the main character, I think Sid Halley(?) screaming for some reason. And if just didn’t fit his personality.


  43. Jamie Griffith September 26, 2022 / 10:47 pm

    Professor Maitzen – I’ve just finished your essay on Francis’s un-heroes and the intelligent, fulfilled female characters he wrote, and I wanted to ask you a question.

    How much, if any, of that was down to his wife often acting as first editor? I seem to recall that she got the first read, and often could have been a co-author. I noticed that I did not enjoy the books after her death nearly as much as the older collection.

    I could, certainly, be way off base, but I was curious what you might think.

    Reflex was my first. Have read them all at least once. Truly a delight to find this post and so many other Francis fans 🙂


  44. Maryn February 12, 2023 / 9:59 pm

    Coming in late to this delightful years-long thread as a confirmed DF fan – wonderful!! I’ve read and reread DF since, um, the mid 1980s maybe? when my mom first introduced him to me? I had a houseful of youngsters at the time and it was always a complete getaway for me to slip off for an hour of so of one of these fascinating and thoroughly well-written books.

    I’m a novelist myself, and my natural writing style tends to be a big … um … turgid (think “Frankenstein” or “Jane Eyre”) – but Francis’s influence is very very evident in my novels written since meeting him. I adore the “wounded hero” trope and I adore the crisp, clear, clear-eyed, slightly sardonic or self-deprecating tone of most of the protagonists and the pulsing driving power of the big action scenes. Wow!

    My own personal faves: “Odds Against” (oh my God, wounded hero!) and “To the Hilt” (oh my God, artist in Scotland!) and “Decider” (oh my God, a dad of a bunch of kids and a dying marriage and kiddos in peril!!). Gahh! Reading “Odds Against” again for the first time in several years. Then who knows?


    • Maryn February 12, 2023 / 10:01 pm

      Apologies for typos that slipped through! No edit option


      • Kathleen February 13, 2023 / 12:01 am

        I felt the same way, stumbling on this thread several years ago. I was so excited get notification of a new comment.


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