Here's a lesson learned in decades of reading: if you want to get to sleep early, don't start a Dick Francis mystery at bedtime. Same holds for his son, Felix Francis, who has taken over the franchise in the name of his late father.
Felix Francis' latest novel, Dick Francis's Damage, which goes on sale Tuesday, maintains the high standard that fans have come to expect, with twists and turns that take you into some of horse racing's darker corners.
And the sport's leaders — as in the British Horseracing Authority — don't come off looking too swift, either.
"I know the chairman of the BHA is reading it at the moment, and I'm waiting to get the call," Francis said in a recent phone interview.
Surprisingly perhaps, racing's mandarins haven't suggested that he stop plotting such terrible things.
"No one has said it to date," Francis said. "I have a lot of fans in the racing world. It is the conception of a lot of people that racing is full of drug-taking crooks, but it isn't true. Racing is very, very clean. ... Everyone likes to think if they picked a horse and backed it, it should have won. Because they've done all the hard work in picking it. And if it doesn't, then it's someone else's fault."
In the world of his books, there is almost always some enterprising crook who has figured out a new way to beat the systems designed to detect fraud, at least until his hero comes along.
In the real world, Francis said, that is less likely.
"I won't say it never happens. But much less than in the books," he said.
But what Francis writes often has a seed of truth to it. Damage was partly inspired by the drug scandal that enveloped leading racehorse owner and breeder Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum last year.
And then, as the book was about to come out, Queen Elizabeth II's second-place runner in the Gold Cup tested positive for morphine and was disqualified.
Both cases bear striking similarities to events in the book.
"Things I write tend to happen," he acknowledged. "As for Damage, I suppose it partly came from Sheikh Mohammed's (former trainer) Mahmood al Zarooni — I suppose it was partly inspired by the events of that, but there was a lot more to it than that."
In this, the fourth novel under his name alone, Francis introduces Jeff Hinkley, an undercover investigator for the BHA. Hinkley bears many of the hallmarks of the great Francis heroes. There are bits of Tor Kelsey from The Edge, the survivalist John Kendall from Longshot, and even hints of the great Sid Halley.
And like Halley, Hinkley will be back. At the behest of Francis' publishers, his next book will have Hinkley as the main character again, Francis said.
But it is proving harder than he'd imagined.
"It's very difficult for me because I like writing books people can pick up in any order," he said.
"My father always said he had a new character every time because he needed to fill the pages up," Felix Francis said, pointing out that he can hardly repeat the entire back story.
The late Dick Francis only repeated two heroes: Halley and Kit Fielding, who was in back-to-back books because Francis was working on a biography of Lester Piggott and didn't have time to research a new main character.
Would Felix Francis ever consider reviving Kit, who was a favorite of many fans?
Probably not, he said.
"The world has changed in those 30 years, since Kit Fielding first appeared — things like mobile phones, DNA, improved drug testing. The world has changed dramatically in those 30 years. I don't think I will bring back Kit Fielding, but that isn't to say I won't produce a character very much like Kit Fielding."
However, there is every chance that Francis, who will be in Lexington next week signing his book, will set a mystery in the U.S. again one day.
There are allusions to previous events in the "Francis" universe, mentions of bits of mischief from other books.
"It's been done before," Hinkley says of one particular kind of wickedness. And it has, in the very first Dick Francis novel, Dead Cert.
"I'm allowed to have a little fun," Felix Francis said, with a laugh.
Does it get harder to come up with new racing skullduggery?
"Always," Francis said.
But he's had plenty of practice, having worked with his father and mother, Mary Francis, on the Dick Francis books for years.
"I designed the bomb that blew up the plane in Rat Race — I was a 17-year-old physics student. ... I wrote the computer program in Twice Shy, which I thought was really cutting edge but is now so out of date," he said.
Recently, he said a nephew read it and asked, "Felix, what's a cassette?" Francis said. "That's terrifying, really."