Great Writers are Great Psychologists


Great writers are great psychologists.  Aside from command of language, imagination, etc., the best writers have the ability to submerge their own personalities completely and create consistent characters wholly unlike themselves.  In the second rank of talented writers who don’t pretend to be great are those with likable personalities that come through to readers and help to make their books enjoyable.

Dick Francis is an example of the latter, a good writer whose kind, brave, and gentlemanly personality shines through and makes the reader care about his heroes.  As shown by “Triple Crown”, published by Felix Francis in 2016, Felix, who was a co-writer on his father’s later books, doesn’t quite come up to the mark.  Of course he’s a generation younger, but his updating of the formula doesn’t add anything worthwhile.  He abandons his father’s old fashioned sensibilities regarding coarse language and bathroom humor, to no positive result. The one major female character has sex appeal but no personality, and protagonist Jeff Hinkley isn’t particularly admirable or likable.

One good quality of the Dick Francis books that Felix has adopted is doing his homework.  Dick Francis was able to speak knowledgeably about horse racing and training, newspaper writing, and running a charter air company, but often chose other lines of work for his protagonists, always learning enough about them to be convincing.  For Triple Crown, Felix Francis has learned a lot about the transmission and effects of equine viruses.

The plot takes British Horseracing Authority investigator Hinkley to the U.S. to hunt corruption in the competition for the Triple Crown, and is quite good.


Mystery Time will be offered as a free Kindle book on Amazon from June 26th to June 30th.  In this Alex Kertész mystery, a colleague dies in Alex’s arms at a biochemistry congress in Prague and an old watch may have mysterious powers.


Dick Francis and Felix Francis


I’ve been a Dick Francis fan for years, and I was worried when he took on his son Felix as a co-author.  Was he as talented as his father, and could he write the same sort of engaging mysteries that his father was so good at?  He is and he can, as the books he has written independently after his father’s death show.  Gamble, published in 2011, is a joint production that I seem to have missed.

The plot of Gamble is set in the world of horse racing, as in most of the Francis books.  One of the strengths of Francis (both father and son) is that the setting is always something that the authors know well.  When they venture into a field they don’t know from personal experience, you can tell that they have done their homework.  They don’t write nonsense.

Even more important, from my point of view, is that the main character(s) are people I want to read about.  Protagonists who are intelligent, brave, and honorable and also come across as human and likeable are a Francis trademark.  I don’t know how they do it.  I have read innumerable mysteries and thrillers where a heroic protagonist remains stubbornly two dimensional.  Attempts to give him (or in some cases, her) some humanizing character flaws can sometimes just make things worse.  Probably the easiest way to create such a fictional character is to be a similarly likable person and write about yourself.  I have a feeling that’s the Francis secret.  In cases where an author falls short of the outstanding qualities readers admire, the only solution may be to be either a great writer, or a really good psychologist, or both.