Dick Francis, saving my life in Amsterdam


Amsterdam image courtesy of kevinrosseel on Morguefile

Mystery writer Dick Francis did me three big favors in my life, although I never even met him. I wish I had.

The first favor was introducing me to his novels, which feature the world of horses and horse racing. Dick Francis was a jockey whose racing career ended after he was injured during a race. He then turned to another career, writing, and was wise enough to write about what he knew best. His good guys are people such as jockeys, trainers, horse owners or others somehow involved in horse-related matters. 

By reading his books, I’ve gained a better appreciation of horses and all that’s involved with raising, training and racing them. Dick Francis also served as an inspiring example of how to write well. His novels feature an intriguing opening line that immediately snags your attention and he tells a great story with an often witty touch. His characters are ordinary men with ordinary talents placed in extraordinary situations. Pilot Matt Shore of Rat Race has his plane blown up without warning while transporting passengers from a race; accountant and jockey Roland Britten of Risk is kidnapped and doesn’t know why. (And I’m not telling, people. Go find the books.)

The second favor happened in Amsterdam. I was on my way back from visiting friends in Luxembourg City and there was a stopover at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. Facing a long flight home with nothing to read and wondering if I would have to resort to reading the plane’s safety cards (hey, I’ll read almost anything), I wandered into a bookstore desperately hoping to find something in English.

And there it was. My deliverance. Sitting on a table, just waiting for me to notice. Field of Thirteen, a collection of short stories by Dick Francis. Ohhh yeahhh. I almost danced a jig right there in the aisle. I whipped out my credit card, beamed at the cashier, hopped on the plane and reveled in the stories that were just as well-written as the novels.

The third favor occurred about a decade or so later. By buying that Dick Francis book when I did, where I did and how I did, I contributed to a chain of events already in motion. I didn’t know it at the time, but my credit card company and others were overcharging a little too much in foreign transaction fees and somebody filed a class action lawsuit. End result of lawsuit: I and others received a small check in compensation. So buying that book made me money — not a big amount but enough to go and buy another book. Strange how life works, isn’t it?


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