Taylor reinvents the Victorian novel, basing his narrative loosely on W.P. Frith’s massive satirical portrait of mid-19th-century English life of the same name.
This novel is preoccupied with social status, power relationships and even, as Taylor has it, "d______d villains." Although he creates a diffuse world without much of a center, one of the major players is Mr. Happerton, a ne’er-do-well with the casual villainy of Our Mutual Friend’s Alfred Lammle. He marries Rebecca Gresham, the daughter of a wealthy London lawyer, a mariage de convenance that gets him closer to a source of the money he craves for his schemes. Happerton is a sporting gentleman whose obsession is Tiberius, a racehorse owned by the financially strapped Mr. Davenant. Happerton buys up notes to make Davenant indebted to him, though Happerton’s sole purpose is to procure Tiberius and run him at Epsom Downs. In his schemes he’s assisted by the hapless Captain Raff, who’s completely outmaneuvered by the rakish and sharp-witted Happerton. Also involved in the action is Mr. Pardew, suspected of having robbed a London mail train and a man perhaps even shrewder than Happerton. He’s on the lam while Captain McTurk, a detective, tries to track him down. Mr. Gresham becomes a valetudinarian, though it remains a possibility that his son-in-law has been slowly poisoning him. The climax of the story is the running of the Derby, and Happerton might be attempting a double cross, betting on a competing horse and trying to ensure Tiberius’ loss.
A sprawling and expansive novel that will appeal to those who like leisurely paced narratives with authentic 19th-century flavor.