Background: I picked up my first Dick-and-Mary Francis* in the early-80s. Read all the backlist at least once, but the early ones weren't so much my cuppa. They were a little too self-consciously hard boiled, but it always felt awkward. The last twenty or thirty were much more about the psychology of the bad guy; they weren't so much about motive, means, and opportunity as they were about why this person might commit this kind of murder, but other people, with just as much anger, or fear, or whatever, wouldn't. That's very appealing.
There are plenty of other reasons why I love the Dick Francis books. There's the horse racing setting where despite the bad events of the story, people find real joy in riding, or training, or owning, a winner; there's almost always a sweet older owner with twinkling eyes and good grace when their horse loses. There's a time when the hero endures some really horrible physical pain and is able to do it, not because of willpower or focus or anything like that: it's just that the guy heals quickly and doesn't seem to suffer nearly as much pain as others with the same injuries would do. It makes sense that any who does anything really painful on a regular basis would have to be less susceptible to pain or they'd never repeat it (I believe somewhere there's speculation that a professional jump jockey has one fall for every four races). There's always a woman, but most of the time she's unavailable, often married and not interested in leaving her husband, even after divorce became commonplace. I refuse to speculate why this pops up so often. Maybe the Francises (Franci?) just don't like their endings to be too happy. There is justice in the end and it pretty much never involves jail, but often requires some very clever blackmail-for-good. And finally, there's the other thing: in addition to racing something else is introduced, and it is something richly satisfying: photography, or creating toys, or competitive target shooting, even merchant banking which I would have thought was deadly dull.
So it's been nearly twenty years since I last read most of them, but as I read through my collection I'm loving them just as much as ever before. Two thousand sixteen: the year of rereading old mysteries.
Anyway, I'm not going to bother to write reviews of each of them. There's already a little synopsis available, and my opinion would just be gush, gush, gush, over and over again.
*"Mary and I worked as a team. ... I have often said that I would have been happy to have both our names on the cover. Mary's family always called me Richard due to having another Dick in the family. I am Richard, Mary was Mary, and Dick Francis was the two of us together" from Swanson, Jean; Dean James (2003). "An Interview with Dick Francis". The Dick Francis Companion. New York: Berkeley Prime Crime. pp. 1–10. ISBN 0-425-18187-1.
PS 11 September, 2016
I forgot to mention something that amused me. Our protagonist is explaining the set-up of the merchant bank, telling us what the departments are, and who works there and cetera. He mentions that there aren't any women on the board or in the best jobs, although there are plenty working as secretaries. He offers up a couple of possible theories as to why this might be, but he doesn't ask any of the women working there, nor does it occur to him that the simple answer "sexism" is the most likely. Everyone seems to be white, but the lack of minorities isn't even noticed. It's funny, the things we just don't see. On first reading this thirtysome years ago, I didn't notice the racism, nor did I consider the sexism.