Reasons for choosing a book are many. Derby Day by D J Taylor has quite a few things going for it: somebody recommended it and said it was Trollopian, Publisher's Weekly gave it a positive review, I really like the cover, it was longlisted for the Booker, and I previously read a book by D J Taylor (Kept) that I liked a lot.
The cover is a reversed detail from Edgar Degas' The Parade or Race Horses in front of the Stands. Although I like Degas' ballerinas, it's his horse and jockey painting that really capture my attention, and this is one of the best.
So Derby Day (2011) came home from the library among a great pile of other enticing books: Dracula, Frankenstein, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Engleby, and a children's book about a chicken, Minerva Louise. I read the last first (it has about 20 pages and is charmingly illustrated.)
I put the pile of books on the floor next to my gold chair in Mary's Library and picked up this one, which was on top. I came to on page 47 and realized I could be sitting comfortably in my gold chair with my (now cold) tea next to me and a cat in my lap. I sat down and didn't surface again until about page 120.
It's that kind of book.
And it is somewhat Trollopian. It has the feel of a Trollope novel, takes place in the 1860s or 70s which is when Trollope's novels are set, and it has a few plots that are undoubtedly going to come together at the end. The characters are realistic and not at all Dickensian, despite the PW comparison. There is a marriage that reminds one of that between Emily Watson and Ferdinand Lopez in The Prime Minister. The racing sub-plot is a bit reminiscent of that in The Duke's Children. There is a family named Gresham (no relation), reference is made to Sir Timothy Grosgrain, someone mentions the name Effingham, someone loiters in a book store so long over a Trollope novel the bookseller kicks him out.
The story is simple, really. An impecunious man in Lincolnshire has come into possession of a horse, Tiberius, which is the favorite for the Derby. Mr Happerton, the Lopez-like character, wants the horse and begins buying up "the paper" of the owner. He marries Gresham's daughter, Rebecca, against the old man's wishes.
Meanwhile, in another sub-plot which is a bit mysterious, Happerton has hired a safecracker, Pardew, to break into an "unbreachable" safe in a high-end jewelry store. I enjoyed reading the details of Mr Pardew's reconnaissance and the actual burglary. We get flalshes of te mystery of Pardew's earlier life and look forward to some explanations. What does the burglary have to do with the Darby? Will Captain McTurk, whom we met in Kept, figure out who done it?
The book zips along and both the plot and the characters kept me engrossed. I stayed up too late reading it. I'm about to find me another D J Taylor novel to console me for losing the people I got to know so well in Derby Day.