by D.J. Taylor
Vintage Digital (e-book)
Set in the 1860s, Derby Day is a murder mystery of the sort they used to write. As the title suggests, it concerns a horse race: one thinks inevitably of William Frith's Derby Day painting and Conan Doyle's story Silver Blaze about a champion thoroughbred and the dog that didn't bark. Here the winning horse is called Tiberius. His owner, an amateur horseman named Davenant, stumbles upon the remarkable animal by chance. Soon every low-life punter is sniffing around in hopes of making a killing - quite literally. Chief among them is the gloriously ghastly Mr Happerton, who swindles the hapless Davenant out of his prized possession. Taylor, an adroit critic and biographer, is an entertaining writer of fiction. He clearly revels in his cast of seedy baddies (like Captain Raff) who convene at The Blue Riband Club. At the other end of the scale is a detective, Captain McTurk, whom Dickens or Wilkie Collins could have drawn: in fact, Taylor himself has already drawn him once, in his previous book, Kept. Derby Day is a rattling good read which doubles as a lament for the human condition.