Keeping a Legacy Character Alive by Felix Francis

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Felix Francis

Felix Francis

Private investigator Sid Halley returns in my latest novel, Hands Down, for his sixth outing in a ‘Dick Francis’ novel.

Sid’s first appearance was back in 1965 when he was introduced to us all in Odds Against, my father’s fourth novel, as an ex-champion jump jockey whose riding career has been cruelly curtailed when his left hand was damaged beyond use by a horse, wearing a jagged metal horseshoe, landing on his outstretched palm.

In what feels to him as merely an act of pity, Sid finally accepts a job as an ‘adviser’ at a detective agency that specialises in horse racing matters. Little does Sid realise that he is to be thrust into a criminal conspiracy that strikes at the very heart of British racing. Sid thwarts the sadistic villain who takes his revenge by totally destroying what is left of Sid’s left hand, with the aid of an iron poker.

My father never intended Sid Halley to become a serial character. It was only when, in 1979, ITV broadcasted a television series called The Racing Game, based on Odds Against, that my father was asked to write Sid Halley into a new novel. So Whip Hand was published in October that year. By now, Sid has been fitted with a myoelectric prosthesis and has established himself as a freelance PI. He investigates the mysterious failings of several three-year-old horses and discovers that they have been maliciously infected with a heart virus.

It is another sixteen years before Sid reappears once more, this time in Come To Grief in 1995. His inclusion was as a result of a very large number of people over the years demanding that my father bring Sid back, and he finally relented, this time to investigate the gruesome mutilation of horses and ponies.

Eleven years later, Sid was back again in Under Orders but, this time, it was for a totally different reason.

Hands DownBetween 1962 and 2000, my father produced a book a year – 39 of them. He was almost eighty years old when Shattered was published in September 2000, and he announced his retirement. The last story was well named – Dad was shattered writing it – and it was now time for a well-earned rest. So the Dick Francis novels had come to an end – at least that was what everyone thought! When my mother died suddenly just three weeks later it seemed to confirm the fact that there would be no more.

However, in early 2005, my father’s literary agent asked me to lunch.

“We have a problem,” the agent said over our starter. “There hasn’t been a new Dick Francis novel for five years. People are forgetting. Your father’s books are going out of print. What we need is a new hardback.”

I stared at him. “Are you crazy? Dad is 84 and can hardly remember what he had for breakfast, let alone enough to write a book.”

“What I’m actually asking,” went on the agent, “is your permission to ask an established crime-writer to write a new ‘Dick Francis’ novel, to stimulate sales of the backlist.”

Well, I must have had a glass or two of red wine because I heard myself saying “Before you ask anyone else, I’d like to have a go.”

It was not as if I came to it completely blind – I’d been writing bits of Dick Francis novels for years, since as a sixteen-year-old A-level-physics student I had designed the bomb that blew up a light aircraft in Rat Race. I also wrote the computer program in Twice Shy, the meteorology bits in Second Wind, and I had helped my father finish the last third of Shattered.

To his credit the literary agent didn’t roll his eyes or laugh. He simply said he’d give me two months to write two chapters, and then we would see. And he openly admits that he then expected me to give him the permission he sought.

So now I had to write a Dick Francis novel.

Where did I begin? Why, with Sid Halley and race-fixing of course.

Surely it would be easier to use an existing DF character to create a new DF story, and race-fixing was much in the news as 16 people, including the then champion jockey, had recently been arrested on suspicion of fixing races.

I set to work.

Under Orders, with Sid Halley as the protagonist, was published in September 2006 as being by Dick Francis. My name wasn’t on it anywhere even though I had written every word. Surely, I argued, if it was to stimulate the Dick Francis backlist, it had to have ‘Dick Francis’ alone on the cover.

The book sold well on both sides of the Atlantic, of course it did with ‘Dick Francis’ on the front, but it was the positive critical reviews that surprised me. I was afraid they would all say that ‘Dick had lost it’, but they didn’t – quite the reverse. ‘The Master is Back’ headlined the review in the New York Times, so I was asked by the publishers to write another. Dead Heat followed but not with Sid. This time I felt confident enough to create a new main character.

Indeed, Sid did not return until Refusal in 2013 and, by now he is married to Marina and they have a daughter. Over the years, since 1965, Sid has aged much less than the rest of us – lucky chap. In Refusal, as well as having to deal with a ruthless Northern Irish terrorist, Sid ponders the question of whether or not he should have a hand transplant.

So now, in Hands Down, nine years after Refusal – but only three years in ‘book time’ – Sid has had the transplant but it is causing as many problems as it solves. Marina feels that, whenever Sid reaches out to her with his new hand, she is being groped by a stranger. On top of that, a racehorse trainer friend calls asking for help – he is being threatened. Then the friend’s stable yard is torched, horses killed, and he has disappeared. Can Sid get to the bottom of everything before he, too, becomes a victim, whilst also saving his marriage?

And will Sid be back again in future stories?

Maybe, maybe not. Wait and see.

Oh yes, and the Dick Francis backlist are still all in print!

© Felix Francis, 2022

About Hands Down:

Hands DownAn old friend in need, a dangerous conspiracy – a new case for Sid Halley…

Sid Halley, former British jump racing champion and private detective, is not having a good time. His wife Marina has decided she needs some time out of their marriage to think about the future and Sid is devastated. But then Gary Bremner, an ex-jockey trainer, calls him to ask for his help – he is being threatened by someone in the racing world and he needs a friend he can trust. However, the very next morning, Gary’s stable yard is torched, horses killed, and Gary has disappeared.

Determined to uncover the truth and to help his friend, Sid starts to investigate. He soon finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that cuts to the very heart of the integrity of British horse racing, and then danger comes closer to home than ever.

Can Sid get to the bottom of what’s going on before he too becomes a victim, while, at the same time, saving his marriage?

Order your copy online here.

About the author

The New York Times, The London Sunday Times and International bestseller, acclaimed author, Felix Francis, was born in Oxford, England, son of the famous mystery author, Dick Francis and his wife, Mary Francis. Felix graduated from London University. His initial career led him into physics, where he was a successful teacher of A Level Physics. But he could not deny that his family’s gift of writing had been passed along to him, and he started his second career–as an author–where he found his knowledge of physics was a great advantage. His many other accomplishments include being an expert outdoorsman, marksman and pilot. Felix Francis resides in England with his wife, Debbie, their family and two Irish Setters and a Cavapoo.

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