There’s really nothing at all that interests me about horse races, nor am I that interested in horses. Credit to Henry Wade then for writing an entire novel deeply entrenched in all things horse, yet somehow leaving me lapping up every page. Now, I knew that Wade was a talented writer; his Heir Presumptive was a highlight read of 2020, and the murder scene in that story stands out as one of the most visceral experiences that I’ve read to date. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that A Dying Fall hit the spot for me, horses and all.
A Dying Fall is a mystery in a strange way. It’s kind of an inverted mystery, with police pursuing horse trainer Charles Rathlyn for the murder of his extremely wealthy wife, except that we don’t really know if he’s guilty. In experiencing the story through his eyes we know that he had a conflictingly-compelling motive for killing her, but we don’t quite know if he took advantage of her occasional sleep walking and pushed her over a bannister. The police force are split between whether it was all an accident or murder, and one detective in particular hounds Rathlyn relentlessly.
Which is kind of too bad, as I think most readers will like Rathlyn and somewhat empathize with him. Yeah, there’s that piggish part about his wife getting a bit plump from over-indulgence in alcohol, his creepy-ish obsession with a “young girl” (until we learn way late in the book that she’s 29), but I don’t know, I kind of just enjoyed his story. And that’s the weird thing about A Dying Fall: it’s somehow such an enjoyable story; the type where you get so sucked up in the world that you find yourself thinking “oh, I hope nothing bad happens” even though you’re damn well reading a murder mystery, and you know someone’s going to get it and someone’s going to pay. I just got swept up in the country house, the rides through the woods, and yes, somehow the horses. And perhaps that last part worked because this is a book that takes place in the world of horses, without smacking you over the head with that fact. Yeah, I learned a bunch of stuff I didn’t know about hunting, training, breeding, etc, but it felt so organic. And that’s cool with me, because I tend to hate mysteries that are “about a thing” such as theatre, the cinema industry, the art world, or what have you, where the author feels the need to drown you in the research that they did instead of telling you a story.
Anyway, as with any enjoyable story without a real hook, this one’s best experienced for yourself; no need for me to mention all of the subplots. There’s no crazy set up or shocking denouement – which may be what we come into these GAD novels for – but I bet you’ll laugh out loud on the final page. Kudos to Perennial Library for padding their 1981 edition with a few extra pages in the rear so that the story ended well before I thought it was going to.