Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Lord Mayor's Show
Vian Smith, il. Sam Savitt (beautiful cover painting)
1969, Doubleday and Company

All you need is luck, she thought. The luck to have good horses, wealthy owners, honest jockeys, able staff; the luck to train so many winners you become 'fashionable.'

The Duncan family believes in luck, as befits a family whose business is training racehorses. Unfortunately, all their luck has been bad lately. Jennifer Duncan is old enough to realize how near to disaster her beloved, honest father has dragged his family. When the troubled racehorse The Lord Mayor puts Danny Duncan in the hospital for an extended time, Jennny forms an alliance with her estranged older brother Graham, to rescue the farm, Punchards Mill. He's reluctant, but unable to shake his responsibility. Standing firmly in the way is the pain and resentment of the displaced Danny Duncan, torn loyalties of farm hand (and would-be boyfriend to Jenny) Ben, and, most crucially, the distrust of youngest child Andrew, who loves The Lord Mayor and resents his older brother.

The very English style, low on dialogue and rich in shifting points of view and interior monologue, moves the story along at a good clip while keeping the focus on the characters, not the action. Even the animals' perspectives are used:

The gray reached the edge of the ramp and looked up, summoning his courage for an ascent which seemed long and steep. He knew he was leaving Punchards Mill. He looked around at the heads of other horses, his nostrils flaring in the beginning of a nucker. He'd never become one of them, never a bonafide racehorse. A year ago he had come among them nervously and had taken weeks to settle. Now he didn't want to leave. His glance to older horses had appeal in it.

But the central struggle is between Graham, self-exiled from the family farm after a disasterous race, and torn still between his fledgling life in London and his old, complicated family life in the West Country, and the ruined racehorse The Lord Mayor. Years before, Graham was Danny's future champion jockey, but the teenager had been fed up with his father's honest, err-on-the-side-of-the-horse approach to winning and, knowing his family desperately needed a win, rode a race that fried The Lord Mayor's mind. The horse still loathes Graham, who see Andrew's bond with the outlaw as exactly what it is; a statemment of 'forget Graham, I can be the family hero.'

Despite the focus on the male power struggle, it's Jennifer who the book returns to again and again, using her as the central stand-in for the reader. She has her own plots - a love triangle with Ben and a wealthy amateur rider, Miles, who becomes entangled in the redemption of The Lord Mayor.

The Lord Mayor - bay gelding
Fire Steward - old racehorse
Cavalier Rustic - racehorse
Prudent Polly - racehorse
Galvanic - racehorse
Miscreant - racehorse

Beautiful painting by Sam Savitt of a bay racehorse being led by a boy.

About the Author
Smith's fondness for Dartmoor shows in most of his books, and more information about his life and non-horsey books can be found on the
Widecombe-In-The-Moor website

Other Books by Author
Several books were published under different titles in the UK and US

Pride Of The Moor (Question Mark in UK) (1961)
Martin Rides The Moor (1964)
Green Heart (1964)
A Second Chance (The Horses of Petrock in UK) (1965)
Tall And Proud (King Sam in UK) (1965)
Come Down The Mountain (1967)
The Minstrel Boy (1970)


A Horse Called Freddie (1967)
Point To Point (1968)
The Grand National (1969)
Horses In The Green Valley (Parade Of Horses in UK) (1970)

Some of his non-horsey books
Song Of The Unsung: A Story of the Sappers (1945)
Candles To The Dawn (1946)
Genesis Down (1963)
The First Thunder (1965)
Moon In The River (1969)
The Wind Blows Free
Portrait Of Dartmoor

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