Friday, November 16, 2012

Derby Day by D.J. Taylor

Readers familiar with the novels of Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters, be it through book, movie, or Masterpiece Theater, will recognize many of the character types in this amusing book.  The unscrupulous cad scheming to marry for money; the befuddled elderly rich man; the cold, self-absorbed daughter; the bankrupt squire hounded by creditors; and the poor young governess who must take a position at a desolate country house are just some of the familiar Victorian characters who populate this book.  The focus of the book is the popular horse race, the Derby, held at Epsom Downs in June of each year. For months before the race, lowlifes, aristocrats and all classes in between plot to make their fortunes off the race and honest citizens are hard put to protect their interests.  The unscrupulous Mr. Happerton defrauds the rightful owner out of possession of a favored horse, Tiberius, and employs a safecracker to raise enough funds to place a large wager on the race. But it is not clear whether he intends to bet on or against his own horse?  On race day the masses flock to Epsom Downs and the various characters Mr. Happerton has used, abused, tricked, cheated and deceived converge on the grounds, looking for payment, justice or revenge. But justice is not always easily achieved and Mr. Happerton is a slippery character.  Nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize, Derby Day is an exciting crime caper but the best of the book is the author’s picture of life and society in Victorian England.