D.J. Taylor's love affair with Thackeray continues in this pitch-perfect Victorian yarn, centred on the annual race meeting (and great social occasion) that is Derby Day.
Rogue-on-the-make Mr Happerton is bent on acquiring the horse Tiberius – an Arab hotly tipped to win – from Mr Davenant, the debt-laden Lincolnshire landowner who owns him. To further this end, he marries Rebecca Gresham, the chilly, green-eyed daughter of an elderly, ailing lawyer, who is persuaded to part with two thousand pounds to fund the deal. But an advantageous marriage is only one of Mr Happerton's plans, with forgery, coercion and a daring jewel robbery also in the pipeline as he sets about the stratagem of making his fortune. His plan rests on the uncertain outcome of the great race day itself, when everyone from the high to the low in society gather together for a great day out and thousands are wagered on the likes of Baldino and Septuagint. Meanwhile Rebecca, a sphinx-like young lady whom everyone including her husband finds so hard to decipher, turns out to have a ferocious self-interest to match that of Becky Sharp herself.
Taylor revels in the role of Victorian novelist, turning his hand to its prose style with ease, and creating a broad canvas of engaging villains, suffering victims, and those kindly characters who seek as best they can to see justice done in an amoral world. A thoroughly enjoyable read.