Dick Francis books on a bookshelf - feature image

What was the first crime novel I read?

With so many books read over the years, we sometimes forget where our love of the crime fiction genre started, don't we?

The first crime fiction book I recall reading was Nerve by the late Dick Francis.

My mum had an old second hand copy on the bookshelf in the living room at home when I was about 12 or 13, and I’d outgrown all the books available to 12-year olds at the time (there were no Hunger Games back then!).

Nerve by author Dick Francis

Bored, I started to browse my parents’ bookshelves and mum, seeing me pull out paperback after paperback, took pity and handed me the copy of Nerve. The opening line gripped my over-active imagination, and soon I was devouring the rest of the story.

Dick Francis novels are often considered to be “cosy mysteries”, and I think that’s a huge mistake.

Nerve is a psychological thriller as good as any - Francis was writing them before the genre name had even been coined. It has a fast-paced plot, plenty of chilling moments, and a killer who has a unique “hands off” approach to his victims. It’s a very, very clever piece of writing.

There are no police detectives in this story. Once the protagonist, a jockey whose rise to fame has been meteoric due to his rivals’ demise, finds himself being targeted, he starts to question everything that has happened around him for the past few months - a colleague committing suicide; rumours swirling around the racing industry that destroy another jockey’s career.

When he finally realises who is behind the cruel scheme, he sets out to wreak his revenge - and prove once and for all that he hasn’t lost his nerve.

Dick Francis books on a bookshelf

For me, being able to read crime fiction at such a formative reading age that had a strong connection with where I grew up was an added bonus. We were surrounded by racing stables in the Berkshire countryside where I lived, and that’s where most of the books are set.

After devouring Nerve I spent all my birthday and Christmas book tokens over the following years completing the back catalogue of Francis’ novels. I still have them, and recently re-read Nerve for the first time in about five years.

It remains a thrilling read.

What was the first crime fiction book you read?

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