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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,
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
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
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 replies, "I'm relieved, Vince. If someone like you,
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
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".
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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 (drf.com)