Thursday, 22 September 2011

Derby Day by DJ Taylor

This story is set in Victorian times and takes place in the months leading up to the famous horse race - the Derby. There is a wide cast of characters. Mr Happerton buys Tiberius, a horse which many people favour to win the Derby. But did he buy him fairly? Mr Davenant, the previous owner is hard pressed financially and Mr Happerton tightens the screw.

Mr Happerton marries Miss Gresham, against her father's wishes. But why does she marry him? A very self-contained woman, Miss Gresham may have her own motives. Mysteriously, after the marriage has taken place, Miss Gresham's father becomes ill. His doctor cannot identify the cause of his illness, but he becomes increasingly fragile, both mentally and physically. Then there is Mr Pardew, a thief living in Paris. Mr Happerton calls him back to London to do a job for him.

All the time this is going on we have gossip and excitment about the upcoming race. Interspersed between the chapters are newspaper reports listing the runners and riders and the latest gossip from the paddock.

The central mystery is why Mr Happerton has bought Tiberius. Does he want him to win, or is he going to make his fortune by betting against him. But alongside this are other puzzling things. I was fascinated by Miss Gresham's motivations. She seems to support Mr Happerton in his endeavours but at the same time has her own plans for him. Nobody in the story trusts anybody else and one of the added interests is to see if everyone can get to the day of the Derby without betraying each other.

It took me a while to get into this, but I thinks that it's because I couldn't get a run at it at first. Because of the summer holidays I didn't have much time for reading so could only read it in fits and starts and had trouble following the story. However once I had time to sit down and concentrate the story really drew me in.

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