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      A.P. McCoy: Taking The Fall.

       Orion, ISBN 978-1409129578,  £9.74

Sport, almost efficiently as wealth and rank, demonstrates the will to power that, despite good intentions from some, still prevails in human behaviour.  The steeplechase jockey, Dick Francis, understood this well.   He wrote forty best selling thrillers.  Several of his novels were adapted for the cinema and TV.   He won the Mystery Writers Edgar Award three times.   Set against a background of horse racing, his thrillers appealed to both the racing fan and the general reader. 

In 2010, A P McCoy was the first jockey to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award.  Prior to ‘Taking The Fall’, he has written three autobiographies.  That is almost as many as Alex Ferguson.  The novels of Dick Francis appeared between 1962 and 1997.   His fans must have wondered if anybody could ever come along to match him.  Well, McCoy has more than matched Francis on the racecourse and, after ‘Taking The Fall’, there will be a few who suspect that McCoy can provide a decent literary contest.

Like the Francis thrillers, ‘Taking The Fall’ combines the racing world with that of crime.  After the recent racing scandals, there is nothing in the book that strains credibility.  The plot resembles that of a Western and has a young jockey who is determined to become successful but who needs to avenge those who wronged his father.  This is a deliberate departure from the Dick Francis tradition.  His heroes were involved in the racing world but not jockeys. Consequently, ‘Taking The Fall’ is more illuminating than Francis about the world of racing and the mentality of winning.  This should appeal to racing fans but there is also enough crime and sex to ensure that those not interested in horse racing will stay the course. 

‘Taking The Fall’ is efficiently written and tightly plotted with some good twists along the way.  It is not a poetical account of alienation and frustration. The hero can only imagine a good life that contains money, women and influence. This is why the brief appearance of the Aaron The Monk is needed.   The other jockeys do not take the Monk seriously but he sparks the light touch morality that grows as the book proceeds.   The morality is not as Victorian as that of Francis but it exists and it is fair to compare ‘Taking The Fall’ to ‘Bonecrack’, which Kingsley Amis regarded as the best of the Dick Francis novels.  ‘Bonecrack’ also charts the moral progress of a young man.  

The sex scenes are athletic and inventive rather than soulful but their appearance in the book does ensure that ‘Taking The Fall’ is well and evenly paced.   And eventually Duncan becomes a human being who understands his responsibility to himself.   Francis was always glib about how the powerful undermined the morality of others.  His upright heroes too often succeeded unconvincingly.  McCoy has a harder edge, which guarantees authenticity.  Not everything in this world is attractive, and that includes the aspirations of the innocent, but it is certainly believable. 

 Howard Jackson