Book Review: Daylight Second, by Kelly Ana Morey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_daylight_secondThe Phar Lap story has become part of New Zealand racing legend. This extraordinary horse was born in Timaru in 1926 and rose to fame on the Australian racetrack. His unexplained death, in America, remains a mystery. Around this basic information, Morey has created a tale of passion and intrigue, poverty and desperation.

Harry Telford spotted the potential in this horse at an early age. Bobbie, as he was known in the stable, was a big, ugly chestnut. Telford had dreams for the horse, named Phar Lap which translates as Good Fortune. That his wife and son, Cappy, came second in his life after the horse, is evident in this tale. Harry’s training regime was unusual for the time and he was ably supported by his strapper, Tommy Woodcock. The title of the book, Daylight Second, refers to the calling of the races in which Phar Lap won by such a huge margin the Daylight Second became the standard place call.

Much of the story is recreated using information from previous biographers and from news reports of the day. The chapters begin with a list of the races Phar Lap entered at that time and the details of each race can become repetitive. Nonetheless, each race shows the progress towards the big one: The Melbourne Cup. This was always (and probably still is) the Holy Grail for horse racing. The other important character in the story, is the Depression. The 1930’s were a time of unemployment, dwindling incomes and desperation in Australia and around the world. Trying to train and race a winner at a time of limited resources had an impact on fields and income.

Morey has created a tale which brings together all these elements with a very human touch: the love that Tommy the strapper has for Bobbie, the struggle of Harry’s wife, Vi, to feed her family on a sporadic income and finally the public interest in the success of this unlikely champion. It is the padding out of the facts with a human interest touch which makes the book enjoyable. Of course we all know the outcome and the division of Phar Lap’s mortal remains adds a macabre end to the tale. The heart and hide to Australia and the skeleton to New Zealand. While Phar Lap was bred in New Zealand, it was Australia that gave him a home and success, and America which claimed him in death.

I have always been fascinated by the Phar Lap story and this book filled in many gaps but also opened up a number of questions, the answers to which we will never know.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Daylight Second
by Kelly Ana Morey
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9781775540526

Recommended: This interview with Kelly Ana Morey in the Weekend insert of the Fairfax Papers.

Book Review: The Pretender’s Lady, by Alan Gold

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_pretenders_lady“Her name will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.” So wrote the famous diarist and biographer James Boswell of his compatriot Flora MacDonald, the never-to-be-forgotten heroine of Scotland, for her single-handed role in the perilous escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie from the clutches of the rampaging English.

What a woman. Born 1722 in the Scottish Hebrides, her life is well documented. Her passion for a Scotland free from the iron grip of the English led her into many adventures and many troubles – not just risking her life to save the Prince, but also spending time locked up in the Tower of London on a charge of treason. In the 1770s, she lived for a time in North Carolina with her husband and children, only to be caught up in the War of Independence, and then surviving a raid by pirates on the return journey to Scotland. By any account she was an extraordinary woman, and her legendary place in Scottish history is well deserved. And hardly surprising either that there is a mystique and aura about her, that continually fuels the fires of independence, resilience and fierceness so part of the the Scottish identity.

In this novel, the Australian author has taken the bones of Flora’s life and created a rollicking good read that will appeal to a wide variety of readers, and not just those of Scottish descent or can lay claim to being descended from a MacDonald of the island of South Uist of the Outer Hebrides. She will be forever known as the saviour of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, aka the Young Pretender, and this is the central narrative of the story. Plus what would a good historical novel be without a bit of romance and bodice ripping in the Scottish highlands surrounded by heather and blustery winds? The background to all this however is just as important to the story. The author has thoroughly researched the history of the time – King George II, his son the Duke of Cumberland whose army famously defeated Charlie at Culloden in 1846 (later known as the Butcher Cumberland for his murderous treatment of the Scottish after this uprising), Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Johnson, the American War of Independence – and tells it in very rich and exciting detail.

Comparisons of the author’s writing style have been made with Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl) and Alison Weir who both write historical novels from the view point of key characters. As a result, fact is used as the starter for the story, but is not necessarily 100% factual in its content. The key word here, emblazoned on the front cover of such books is ‘a novel’. A great starting point for further research and reading.

For me, the key point of such historical novels, is that we learn so much – these books are page turners, they draw us in, real people and real events become vivid in our imaginations, history comes alive. And more importantly, these novels provide background to the nature of the world we live in now. For example, why did thousands leave Scotland from the mid-18th century onwards for the greener pastures of unknown lands in America, Canada, and New Zealand? Aside from the weather…

This is a terrific story, well told, great characters both good and bad, and in the light of the referendum that took place last year for Scottish independence, very timely. The relationship between the two nations may be cordial now, but it has not always been so, in fact many times over the centuries completely the opposite. Such a story makes me very proud of my Scottish heritage, and has sparked a wish to go to the Hebrides. My only criticism? Some pictures of Flora and Charlie would not have gone amiss, and a couple of maps would also have helped greatly in conjuring up images of the intrepid journey that Flora and her prince made.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Pretender’s Lady
by Alan Gold
Published by Yucca Press
ISBN 9781631580482