Secret plot denied in Dick Francis story

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The Independent Culture

Claims that bestselling thriller writer Dick Francis owes most of his literary success to his wife were denied today.In a plot worthy of the author himself a new unauthorised biography, Dick Francis: A Racing Life, suggests that Mary Francis has penned the majority of the ex-jockey's novels but shunned the limelight in favour of the pulling power of her husband's name.

Claims that bestselling thriller writer Dick Francis owes most of his literary success to his wife were denied today.In a plot worthy of the author himself a new unauthorised biography, Dick Francis: A Racing Life, suggests that Mary Francis has penned the majority of the ex-jockey's novels but shunned the limelight in favour of the pulling power of her husband's name.

Biographer Graham Lord, who claims to have known the couple for 30 years, says conversations in which Mary hinted at her role and Mr Francis's desire that his wife be credited as a co-author give credence to the claims.

But publishers for Mr Francis, who celebrates his 79th birthday at the end of this month, insisted the claims were a non-starter - saying that while Mary had always helped with research, it is the ex-jockey who writes the bestsellers.

His 40 crime thrillers have helped make Mr Francis one of the most successful post-war authors, selling more than 60 million copies worldwide. He is reputed to be The Queen Mother's favourite author.

Mr Lord points to the fact that Mr Francis left school at 15, while his wife gained a degree in French and English at the age of 19 before going on to work for a publisher, as evidence that Mary is the real force behind the books.

The biography suggests that the long-acknowledged collaboration between the couple, who have been married for 52 years, conceals the fact that Mary writes the majority of the books with an advisory input from her husband.

But a spokeswoman for Michael Joseph, Mr Francis's publisher, hit back at the claims, saying: 'Dick and Mary have never made a secret of the fact that they work together on their books ÿ they are very much a team.

'He has also made it clear that he would like Mary to have a co-author credit but while she helps with the research and discussing the books, it is Dick who writes them.'

The couple's younger son, Felix, also denied Mr Lord's claims that he enjoys a close relationship with the couple, who live on the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean, after knowing them for more than 30 years.

Felix Francis said: 'I have no comment to make on the book itself but while Mr Lord may have known my parents for that period, it is certainly not the case that he is a close family friend.'

The 400-page biography recalls a conversation in 1980 between Mr Lord and Mary Francis about whether she wrote the books under her husband's name.

Mr Lord claims she said: 'That's an impossible question to answer. Yes, Dick would like me to have all the credit for them but believe me, it's much better for everyone, including the readers, to think that he writes them because they're taut, masculine books that might otherwise lose their credibility.'

The biographer's publisher, Little, Brown & Co, insisted the book was laying the evidence before readers to allow them to decide on the real-life Dick Francis mystery for themselves.

But a spokeswoman for the company admitted the book casts doubt on Mr Francis's uncontested authorship: 'The biography puts the evidence about Maryÿs education and Dick's background in front of readers.

'There is an undoubted collaboration between them but what is being suggested is that Mary's contribution is more considerable than previously thought.'

The biography will be published next week.

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