Taking The Fall – A.P. McCoy

UnknownTaking The Fall is the novel equivalent of ITV3: You know that when you need something warm and comforting you can always tune in to find a crime-drama featuring a dodgy character in a fedora driving an Austin Allegro.

You’ll find the blurb in the winner’s enclosure:

Duncan Claymore could have it all. He’s one of the country’s up and coming young jockeys and this season his sights are set on getting right to the top. He has the talent and the tenacity, but he also has his demons, and it’s these that threaten to overthrow his burning ambition.

Duncan was taught everything he knows by his father, Charlie, a former trainer whose career and reputation were destroyed when a series of bitter rivalries got out of hand. It ruined him and Charlie hasn’t been able to set foot on a racecourse since.

Now, with his father’s health rapidly declining, Duncan is desperate to beat the best and at the same time take down the men responsible for Charlie’s ruin. But can he do both or must he choose between his family and his future? Dark, gripping and compulsive, TAKING THE FALL is the first thriller from champion jockey, A.P. McCoy.

For a thriller, Taking The Fall is a friendly little book, and there’s a lot to enjoy in it. McCoy diplomatically sets his tale at the arse-end of the 70s when presumably corruption was rife in horse-racing, and less mired, I’d imagine, in tedious rules and regulations. But it also means he can embellish his tale with a rich cast of chancers and boo-hiss villains of the kind you’d find in a vintage episode of Minder. Everyone’s a little bit woo, a little bit waah.

As an instrument of revenge, Duncan Claymore is an amiable cheeky-chappie – one part Hamlet, three-parts Robin Asquith – and this ambitious, randy young hero is surrounded by trainers, jockeys, leggy women and shady hangers-on, such as the agent with  a tendency to prance like Jagger when he gets excited.

But beware the blurb: dark it ain’t. Revenge, as everyone will tell you, is a dish served cold, but as a crime drama Taking The Fall never really gets the blood pumping – the only bit of nastiness happens off stage. It’s a book best appreciated as a comedy-thriller, and it canters easily to the finishing line – sorry about this  – without ever have to use the whip. Your Uncle Neddy may enjoy it in front of the fire at Christmas, but some of the sexy-romps – Duncan likes the ladies – may make Aunty Maureen blush.

I’ve never read any Dick Francis so I’ve nothing to compare it with, but I understand Mr. McCoy is a jockey of some reputation, and Taking The Fall answers some of the questions that a layman like myself has always wondered about racing – such as does the horse know it’s running?

There’s much to admire in Taking The Fall. It’s an easy read, warm and occasionally surreal – and at the end Duncan is left with unfinished business, so I expect it’s the first in a series – and if you don’t mind getting mud on your trousers it may be just your kind of thing.

Many thanks to Grame Williams at Orion Books for the review copy.

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