This is D J Taylor's second Victoriana novel, a clever pastiche of Victorian mystery, which details the events leading up to the great race, and the conniving machinations of the central character Happerton. The most intriguing relationship in the novel is that between Happerton and his wife Rebecca, for if Happerton is no more or less than a scheming bounder, then Rebecca has a much more credibly dark edge to her character. Cooler than Happerton, and more judicious, she is capable of great, if unrealised, passion, and it is this glancing passion that lends the novel its finest moments.
Derby Day has some splendid set scenes, and the descriptions of Scroop Hall are pleasingly atmospheric, but it is unfortunately almost impossible to read without comparison to Sarah Waters Fingersmith and The Little Friend comparisons which don't favour this novel. To be sure, it is on the whole well plotted (with the possible exception of the jewellery raid in the middle which seemed a bit out of place) and the characterisation and setting are polished and satisfying, but there is something just a bit flat about it. Maybe the pastiche overshadowed Taylor's voice, so that it read more like an incredibly accomplished exercise, than a fully realised world of its own. It was technically impressive but lacking in unique sensibility,. There was insufficient that was thrilling about this novel, in the end, to make me feel like it had been a worthy addition to the Booker longlist.