Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Dick Francis and Robert B. Parker

catskill eagleAs a fan of Dick Francis and Robert B. Parker, I was saddened when they both died in 2010. Part of it was a selfish reason, for now there would be no more books from them. But I was wrong. In each case other people stepped in to continue their stories and the contrast between them shows that can be a mixed blessing. Though they both wrote excellent mysteries, they were quite different. Parker wrote several series, the most famous being the ones featuring Spenser, a private investigator in Boston, an ex-boxer who likes to quote poetry. Francis didn’t exactly write series, but did revisit several characters in more than one book. All were set in the UK and involved horse racing in some manner, jockeys, yes, but also trainers, breeders and even artists.
Parker’s estate divided the series between various authors, but they made an excellent choice in Ace Atkins, who published his first Spenser novel in 2012, with 2 others following. Reading them, you’d never guess that someone else had written them, they are so close to Parker’s style. The smart-aleck comebacks from Spenser, the short sentences laden
with meanings, the still smouldering romance with Susan, his psychologist girlfriend. That’s one of the best parts of any Spenser novel, the middle-aged love affair, filled with snappy reparte. A new character, a young Native American man named Zebulon Sixkill was introduced in the very last novel Parker wrote and was published posthumously. He joins Hawk in assisting Spenser with his cases.
Atkins was a newspaper reporter and writes mystery novels of his own. I haven’t read any, because their descriptions sound too violent for a wimp like me, but I’d like to hear from someone who has read them to see how different the style is from the Spencer books.
cometogriefWhen I discovered Dick Francis in the late eighties, I would bring armfuls of his books home from the library. Though he wrote quite a few, at that rate, I’d read them all within a couple months. That practice caused me to institute one of my strict reading rules, only one book by an author per month, it makes them last longer. The horsie settings took me back to elementary school, when I was immersed in Marguerite Henry’s books and created a comfy, familiar feeling.
So it was quite disappointing to find that Dick Francis’s son, Felix, was making a hash out of carrying on his father’s name, despite supposedly being a coauthor on his dad’s last several books. For one thing, Felix is not as technically good at writing, over describing things to the point where the sentences become clunky. He also stops and starts the action too obviously, almost like a Tv show, with a pause after dramatic moments before going to commercial. His narrators are too focused upon themselves, with a touch of self pity and are a throwback to the macho, tough guys of decades past. Dick Francis had characters which were masculine but refined, they solved problems with brains instead of brawn, though most of them lived quite physical lifestyles. They also had self depreciating humor, rather than the tough guy bluster. His narrative had a wonderful flow, he could describe things with a few words, so the suspense and action carried the reader along.
Not everyone has such a magic touch, but if his son would have forged a new career of writing completely new stories with his own characters and attitudes, it would’ve been perfectly adequate. He is not true to the characters or the style of his father’s books, so the comparison is painful. I’m guessing the idea of having someone else carry on, even if they could do better, is not in the cards at this point.
So there you have it, two very different results when continuing an authors work, one successful, one not. I will definitely be looking forward to any new Spenser novels which will come out, but for Dick Francis, I’ll just have to be content with rereading old favorites.

3 comments on “Dick Francis and Robert B. Parker

  1. everydayhas
    January 16, 2015

    These are two of my dad’s favorite authors, and he’s had the same experience. I keep buying him the fake parker / fake francis books anyway because he can’t find any new authors. Do you have any recommendations, since you seem to have similar tastes?

  2. megan
    January 17, 2015

    That’s sad to hear about Dick Francis. I was a massive fan of his when I was at school – well my mother was too, so I just read all of his books that she owned and borrowed. It’s been such a long time since I read them though, maybe it’s time for a re-read.

  3. Jackie
    January 17, 2015

    While no one comes close to Dick Francis, other series I also enjoy are the Inspector Lynley mysteries by Elizabeth George and the Sister Fidelma series by Peter Tremayne, which are similar to the Brother Cadfael books.
    Parker fans should enjoy the Marcus Falco series by Lindsey Davis, they are like Spenser novels set in Ancient Rome. Really!

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