From midlife podginess to lean, mean jockey machine

FROM JUMBO TO JOCKEY: ONE MAN’S JOURNEY TO BATTLE HIS WEIGHT AND AGE TO LIVE OUT HIS
CHILDHOOD DREAM
BY DOMINIC PRINCE
Fourth Estate, £10.99

“Most people said I was mad. Others thought I’d get myself killed. The rest just howled with laughter at the idea that I – 16st 7lb and aged 47 – intended to train as a jockey and compete in a proper race”.

Such are the recollections of Dominic Prince, a middle-aged, formerly podgy journalist (married to food write Rose Prince), looking back on the astounding journey that led to this book.

Once a keen rider and boyhood adorer of all things equine, Prince hadn’t ridden a horse in decades and had succumbed to a life of middle-aged weight gain and comfort.

One day, during a post-dinner conversation with his wife, he confessed the only thing in the world he’d lose weight for would be horses. To ride again. And thus was born his goal: to “ride in a race, on a proper racehorse on one of Britain’s racetracks”.

He found a willing trainer and the months of gruelling training, diet and early mornings that followed have gone into this amazingly entertaining book.

Tales of physical overhaul are ten a penny but this one is actually interesting – in part because of the fascinating world of horse-racing and also because of Prince’s loveable style. A real crowd-pleaser.

THE DEFENCE OF THE REALM: THE AUTHORISED
HISTORY OF M15
BY CHRISTOPHER ANDREW
Penguin, £14.99

There is a truly vast array of books about British spies – but this is the very first authorised history of the security service, permitted and indeed commissioned by MI5 to mark its centenary. The “authorised” status is key to this volume’s purpose and its success – the range and significance of the material to which Christopher Andrew has had access with the blessing of MI5, and has republished here, is extraordinary. Many have heard of Anthony Blunt and the rest of the “Cambridge spies”. Some will know that Blunt betrayed his country by (amongst other things) telling them about the wartime surveillance conducted on Communist leaders in the UK. Very few indeed will have actually seen the photographs from that surveillance, until now – for here they are, reproduced in this book. The Defence of the Realm might at first seem daunting – but for enthusiasts it will flash by and for the casual reader, dipping (or using the excellent index) will yield happy results as each page contains a gripping anecdote from our country’s past. Cambridge academic Christopher Andrew has long been legendary in this field; eight years in the making, this book can justly be regarded as the crowning achievement of his career. Alex Deane

BLACK HOUSE
BY PETER MAY
Quercus, £12.99

The farthest reaches of Scotland. A young couple, hastily ducking into a boathouse to help lose each other’s virginity, come across something horrible: a dead man swinging naked and disembowelled. Welcome to the Isle of Lewis, a remote, harshly beautiful part of the world, where the difficulty of existence is outweighed only by religious fervour. Beneath the surface devotion, though, lurks older, more primal and dangerous urges and values.

The brutal murder in the boatshed sends police detective Fin Macleod up from Edinburgh as it resonates with a recent spate of murders there. It’s also a journey home for him, since he grew up on the Isle of Lewis.

Each year the island’s men perform the hunting of the “gugas”, a savage custom the islanders cling to in the face of the demands of modern morality. For Fin, the hunt recalls a horrific tragedy, which after all this time may have begun to demand another sacrifice.

This is a novel of subtlety and horror. Award-winning author Peter May has deftly constructed a story that gets into the heart of human darkness while presenting an intriguing thriller you won’t be able to put down.