Home  Alternative Travel   Bicycling Horse Racing Contact Me







< Previous Review                                    Next Review >

Tropical Downs - Mark Cramer's newest novel
Mark Cramer, author of "Scared Money", hits the second half of the double with newest novel "Tropical Downs".

Set in the sky high city of La Paz in Bolivia, it is the exotic winner of the year. I can not recall reading a novel like it. The idea seems so obvious -- write a great story and include lots of real-life handicapping scenarios that horseplayers can relate to -- yet, it has never been done -- or at least not to the level of "Tropical Downs".

Trainer specialty angles... they're in there. Maiden angles... they're in there. The search for the automatic bet is a theme that appears throughout the book. Mark Cramer looks at horse race handicapping like no one else. Mark Cramer writes horseracing novels like no one else.

The hero, Matt Bosch, (to paraphrase Cramer) "laments that we live in a celebrity culture, but that he feels privileged he gets to live a life where he can appreciate little-known trainers who surmount obstacles and fulfill greater challenges than blockbuster actors or hack politicians."

I feel kind of the same way toward "Tropical Downs". Mark Cramer may not get the recognition of Steven King, but he deserves it. Anyone who can wax eloquently about the nuances of horse race handicapping and weave it into a crime and mystery novel deserves a Pulitzer Prize, in
my opinion. I can't put my finger on it, but at times, "Tropical
Downs" reminds me of Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises". Maybe it's the exotic setting -- the cafes, the characters?

Matt Bosch has been recruited to help build a new racetrack in Bolivia, but is he just a pawn in a dangerous and potentially deadly endeavor? As Bosch becomes more and more tangled in the web we see how he uses his handicapping skills to determine the probabilities of the
various outcomes based on the calculated risks he will have to take.

As you read the book, you know that Mark Cramer has spent time in Bolivia. He knows the geography and understands the language and customs. He writes about the plight of the landless peasants and their struggles against the large landowners with private militias.

He writes with a sense of humor. When Matt Bosch is in trouble and needs time to think he heads to a Chilean OTB. Cramer writes the thoughts of Matt Bosch: "The Chilean OTB was a seductive retreat. I first had to pass through the veteran whores to get in. They took one tired look at me, and I became a vet-scratch from their list of also-eligibles."

Matt Bosch's friend, Vince, is the opposite of a compulsive liar --he's a compulsive truth-teller. Vince runs a bookstore that features horseracing in the front and pornography in the back. After Bosch's daughter was born the baby was brought to the visiting room. "Vince took a long look and said to Bosch's wife, Sonia, 'She looks scary, Sonia. Weird.'"

Sonia replies, "I'm relieved, Vince. If someone like you, who
considers pornography as pure beauty, had said Deedee was beautiful, I'd have been horrified."

Other times, Cramer's writing is poetic: "The visual source of her agile authority was found in her deep, dark eyes. I looked beyond the flare of her long winking eyelashes, in search of a bend in her spirit."

Cramer writes about other real places, like Saratoga, Santa Anita and Laurel. If you've been to Laurel, for example, you will find that he captures the feeling you get when being there. And if you haven't been there then he will give you a sense of what it is like to stand at the rail of Laurel Racetrack on a cold, grey day.

Bukowski wrote a poem about a night he spent reading one of his favorite authors. While he lay reading the book, he said he kept pounding his fist into the mattress because the author revealed so many profound truths. I did the same thing while reading "Tropical Downs". I kept thinking to myself, "Damn -- how does Cramer keep coming up with such great lines?!"

A horse race novel as good as "Tropical Downs" only comes around about once every 5 or 10 years. The last good one was was written by Mark Cramer. The next one probably will be written by him, too. For now, do yourself a favor and enjoy Mark Cramer's newest novel, "Tropical Downs".

John Swetye                      
              Next Review >

To view this entire post and replies

Yep, I got it for myself for Christmas, and I've already read it twice. Very good book, with some interesting Cramer race angles mixed in.

You can find Tropical Downs at the Daily Racing Form website ( or   
Continued >