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Derby Day: A Victorian Mystery Paperback – 24 May 2012
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"Meticulously plotted and written with bouncy confidence... A rattling good yarn" (Spectator)
"Derby Day is a triumphant success...in this unputdownable Victorian romp [Taylor] enjoyably proves himself to be one of the finest of our 21st-century novelists" (AN Wilson Financial Times)
"The novel is richly redolent of the novels of Wilkie Collins, Dickens and Thackeray... The characters who plot and squirm throughout the course of Derby Day are fully rounded and memorably drawn and the atmosphere is palpable. In fact here is an intelligent novel which is also a genuine page-turner. Truly a terrific read" (Peter Burton Daily Express)
"Rich and gorgeous as a plum cake, this is absorbing entertainment indeed" (Kate Saunders The Times)
"Taylor, with patient stealth, assembles a ring of enjoyably seedy or unprepossessing figures...What distinguishes it from generic thriller-writing is the author's knowledge of the period" (Times Literary Supplement)
A gripping novel of romance and rivalry, gambling and greed, from acclaimed novelist and biographer D.J. Taylor - longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
This is a very well researched novel (apart from an error on page 5, where the St Leger is described as though it's a steeplechase--this faux pas almost caused a racing enthusiast friend to stop reading then and there!), and the style, a pastiche of Dickens, is exquisite, although rather obviously derivative at times. I did however, encounter two problems: firstly, none of the characters, apart perhaps from the peripheral figures of Mr Glenister and Miss Ellington who really should be given a more central role in my view, are in the least sympathetic, (maybe it's a flaw in me, but I like to care about at least one character in a book, and one can 'care' for very flawed people, for example Raskolnikov) and secondly, the plot, described on the dust-jacket as a 'mystery' is not a mystery at all, so I'm not sure how well D.J.Taylor has been served by this misdirection from the publisher.
I did enjoy this book very much, and was glad I persisted to the end despite the longeurs that hit me temporarily two thirds of the way through. Personally, though, I'd have liked it far better if the author had plunged us straight into Frith's 'Derby Day' at the beginning, describing the scene with the humour and vigour of Dickens, and introducing the characters, then giving us the story in flashback, before returning to Derby Day again. And yes--completely agree that a section of Frith's painting should be on the cover!
I can recommend this book thoroughly, but it just falls short of five stars for me.
It's not that Derby Day was a bad novel. In many ways, it was just the sort of thing that floats my boat - a Victorian novel with a convoluted plot, larger than life characters, dastardly villains and heaps of fog. Yet, for all this, it seemed to be a bit of a Me-Too. Every bit as good as any other Victorian mystery (except, perhaps, for Fingersmith and Affinity), but not anything terribly remarkable. The prose was excellent, the story was taut and Mrs Rebecca was surprisingly scheming. The ending felt underplayed which was strange since it seemed to drag on for so long.
One curiosity was the safe cracking scene in the middle. This scene was a re-writing of a near identical scene from Taylor's previous novel: At The Chime Of A City Clock. The detailing had been brought forward 70 years and there were one or two incidental differences, but it was somewhere in excess of 20 pages of recycled material. The retelling was competent; better, even, than the original but it felt odd - all the more so since this strand of the story didn't seem strictly necessary. Perhaps it made Mr Happerton seem slightly more scheming and nefarious although his involvement in the robbery was never quite clear.
If this seems lukewarm, it is perhaps unfair. For the most part, Derby Day was great fun to read and genuinely suspenseful. Some of the characters were terrific, especially Major Hubbins, the jockey - a man of expensive tastes and a pride that is easily piqued. The aforementioned Rebecca is also well drawn and has shades of both black and white. And Captain Raff - a cowardly henchman who completely unsuited to the task.
Some of the period detail is terrific - a level of care and attention which really does convince. Unlike Dickens, DJ Taylor has not followed the easy path of portraying poverty - far more following in the tradition of George Moore in depicting the upper classes at play. Moreover, the occasionally sarcastic narrative voice lifts the text and allows the reader to sneer at the pomposity of it all.
So, overall, a good read. Nearly great.