A review of TAKING THE FALL by A.P.McCoy –
As a big horse racing fan I’ve been wanting to read a novel based around this sport for ages. I recently bought and read D J Taylor’s Derby Day because of this, which I found disappointingly was more about a Victorian swindle than horse racing culture. I was seriously toying with the idea of trying my first Dick Francis novel(or his son’s, Felix Francis…both very famous horse racing novelists) when I saw that the greatest living National Hunt jockey, A.P McCoy, had just realised his first novel. The book duly came, I opened it in somewhat excited, nervous anticipation, and after finishing read it days later I was left feeling greatly underwhelmed sadly. As I indicate with my headline, there is too much sex and not enough gripping storytelling in my opinion.
So, what is the book about then and who are the protagonists? It centres on the life of a young cocky jockey called Duncan Claymore. He has just graduated from being a leading Apprentice, people think he has the skills to be a future great, but his mouth keeps getting him into trouble. By this I mean his direct approach and assessment of his rides leads him to often irritate and offend trainers and owners alike. To get around this problem he ends up employing the hopeless and occasionally comical Jockey Agent, Mike Ruddy. The plot takes the form of a revenge mission for Duncan. His Dad Charlie was once a trainer and on the cusp of greatness when he was subjected to a set-up involving three people(a trainer, a owner and a jockey). Worried that Charlie will harm their successes, this trio conspired to have him found guilty of doping a horse. Charlie thus gets banned from training, his budding racing enterprise ends, with Duncan believing all this upset has accelerated the onset of his Father’s dementia. Duncan sets out on trying to make these people pay for what they did, before his Father’s dementia becomes too much for him to understand it all. Added with this is whether or not Duncan will join the dark side and become complicit in helping fix races for illegal betting rings. In theory this sounds like a rather dark, gripping, compulsive thriller as noted in the overleaf. In reality, I think it is a relatively poorly written book, and did not have me gripped whatsoever.
Firstly, I have an issue with the conclusion/ending. Unless McCoy tends to write a sequel, it ends with only ONE of the people responsible for his Father’s set-up getting their comeuppance. Therefore, the reader or rather I, did not get the much desired and seemingly promised correct narrative resolution at the end. It could have least been another hundred pages long and achieved this, so I felt a bit cheated. The narrative tension that is built up towards the end is only in a small amount….and then is quickly and unsatisfactory dealt with.
Secondly, I am no prude but the sex scenes or depiction of them rather, were very over-the-top and too explicit for me. I’ve read a few novels where love making is sensually told, a moving experience to read about. McCoy instead is verging on the flippant regarding sex, and how his character meaninglessly engages in it. That said, if his point was to paint his character as a womaniser than fine, but the explicitness of the scenes do not add anything to the overall narrative in my view, rather they just cheapen it. Apart from having sex with the wife of a jockey who he hates, the bed hopping is more of a distraction to main drive of the plot. If I am being frank, the endless sex scenes did smack of only being there to help fill his word count up….but this is only my opinion, not indeed fact.
Thirdly, as a person who had the awful experience of my late Grandma going through severe dementia and Alzheimer’s before she died, I have a few issues with the dementia he details Duncan’s father Charlie from having. He details how one minute Charlie is having a bad spell and does not know what is happening, to then him apologising for getting mixed up and being coherent once more. I could be wrong but my Grandma’s dementia was more like a slippery slope, there were no good and bad spells which could be checked….or was she aware of having.
Do not get me wrong though I do not greatly hate this book, I did enjoy some elements to it. As a horse racing fan, I enjoyed reading the race scenes. I particularly also enjoyed how he describes Duncan correcting a horse in training. Up too this point the horse kept planting it’s feet at a fence and so throwing the jockey overboard, it was interesting to read how this problem was corrected. The promise of a vengeful jockey not stopping til revenge had been exacted did make me carry on reading. As indicated earlier though, this revenge ends in a bit of a damp squib and is a bit of a disappointment. I realise it was a debut novel but ultimately it did not live up to my high expectations. If this book was runner in this year’s Grand National then I would predict after I bright start I could see it falling either at Beechers or if not, then definitely at The Chair. 2/5