Best-selling mystery author Dick Francis dies

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Dick Francis, the best-selling British thriller writer and former champion jockey, died Sunday in his home in the Cayman Islands. He was 89.

A successful steeplechase jockey, Mr. Francis turned to writing after he retired from racing in 1957. He wrote 42 novels, many of which featured racing as a theme. His books were translated into more than 20 languages, and in 2000 Queen Elizabeth II – whose mother was among his many readers – honored him by making him a Commander of the British Empire.

Mr. Francis’ spokeswoman, Ruth Cairns, said the writer died from natural causes but did not elaborate.

During his writing career, Mr. Francis won three Edgar Allen Poe awards given by the Mystery Writers of America for his novels “Forfeit” (1968), “Whip Hand” (1979) and “Come to Grief” (1995).

He also was awarded a Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association for his outstanding contribution to the genre.

Aside from novels, Mr. Francis also wrote a volume of short stories, as well as a biography of British jockey Lester Piggott.

In recent years, he wrote novels jointly with son Felix, including “Silks” (2008) and “Even Money” (2009). A new novel by the two, “Crossfire,” will be published this year.

Mr. Francis was born Oct. 31, 1920, as the younger son of a horse breeder in Tenby, South Wales. During World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force in 1940 and was stationed in the Egyptian desert before being commissioned as a bomber pilot in 1943.

A few years later, he returned to his father’s stables and became a steeplechase trainer’s assistant. Later, as a professional jockey, he won 345 of the more than 2,300 races he rode in between 1948 and 1957, taking the title of champion jockey for the 1953-54 season.

His most famous moment in racing came just a few months before he retired, when, riding for Queen Elizabeth, his horse collapsed inexplicably within sight of certain victory in the 1956 Grand National.

Mr. Francis’ first book, published in 1957, was his autobiography, titled “The Sport of Queens.” His first novel, “Dead Cert,” came out in 1962 and was followed by a new title every year since.