The danger with all fiction set within a sport is that the sport takes over, or it falls into predictable clichés, as in all football themed movies including an epic game in the rain or basketball movies that grind inexorably and predictably toward the final buzzer-beater.
But Kaehler does a masterful job of keeping sport of racing subservient to mystery, but not so far in the background as to be meaningless to the plot.In Kaehler’s two books from Poisoned Penn Press, Dead Man’s Switch (August 2011) and Braking Points (due out April 2), main character Kate Reilly is an up-and-coming driver in the American Le Mans Series. Readers follow Kate through a life of driving that’s continuously complicated by dead bodies and the attendant mysteries.
Go Behind the Scenes without Bogging Down
A strong point in both books is the way Kaehler gives readers comprehensive behind-the-scenes access at ALMS evens, and by extension any top-level racing series. You ride along with Kate not only on the track, in the pits, hauler and motor home, but also at even more exclusive off-track venues like sponsor dinners and meet-and-greets.
Most impressive is the way Kaehler manages to work in that access without letting it overwhelm the plot and pace of the books.
Perhaps Kaehler’s background working in marketing and hospitality for a major sponsor at ALMS events prior to becoming an author gave her an excellent insight into the level of information the average fan wants, and how much was too much.
So where hard-core racing-fans-turned-authors-would try to drag readers through chapter-long explorations of coefficients of drag and horsepower and analyses of the historical significance of each track, Kaehler manages to sprinkle in just enough of the technical racing detail to satisfy the race fan, but not so much as to throw off the mystery lover.
Publishers Weekly said: “Even those unfamiliar with this world (racing) will appreciate Kaehler's vivid descriptions of the intricate teamwork involved in racing, the amazing equipment, the split-second decision making required of the driver, and the pulse-pounding race itself."
To deliver that pulse-pounding on-track narrative, Kaehler uses a tight, staccato style that conveys the flow of both information and adrenalin in racing. For example, from Braking Points we go inside Kate’s head during qualifying laps:
“Throttle planted, still at top speed. Accelerating. Picking up speed down the hill, looking at the 90-degree 10a in front of me. Slamming on the brakes at the last possible moment, nose of the car dipping down. Downshifting to fifth. Fourth. Third. Release brakes most of the way to roll through the turn. Off brakes at the apex. Square off the corner. Foot hovering over the throttle, wait until half way between 10a and 10b. Now foot to the floor.”
Combine that with Kaehler’s motivation to introduce new fans to the sport of car racing -- much like mystery writer Dick Francis takes readers behind the ropes in the world of horse racing -- and you have stories that will entertain both those with a long history of race fandom and mystery lovers completely new to the sport. (Read more on Kaehler's life before being published here.)
Dead Man’s Switch and Baking PointsThe fictional Kate follows the expected woman-in-a-man’s-world outline, but with plenty of wrinkles to avoid complete predictability. Kaehler’s first novel, Dead Man’s Switch, introduces Kate, who immediately finds herself embroiled in a mystery after stumbling over the body of a dead driver at Lime Rock Park. When Kate is selected by a big-personality team boss to replace the dead driver, whispers and innuendos ensue.
Kaehler’s second book, Braking Points, is set at Road America and seems to be a more complex work in general. It creates a much stronger, multi-level motive for Kate’s involvement in the mystery and includes more about off-the-track relationships, including a love interest and her estranged paternal relatives. Braking Points also ramps up the role of Kate’s sidekick, Holly, “a petite, polished redhead from Tennessee” who works in marketing for one of the ALMS teams. For the most part the Kate/Holly relationship works very well, with Holly playing the level-headed voice of reason that contrasts nicely with Kate’s habit of inopportune outbursts.
Braking Points also goes more deeply into racing issues that crop up from Kate’s gender, including dealing with varying levels of both stalkers and haters. Kate even clashes with an antagonistic racing blogger called Racing’s Ringer who, among other things, provides a reader-friendly way to fill in a bit of Kate’s back story.
The Flawed and Fascinating Kate Reilly
You expect heroine Kate Reilly to be easy to cheer for, and she is. But at the same time, Kaehler gives Kate plenty of warts. Kate’s background is pocked with family issues including grudges, misunderstands, questions and even hostilities. Kate also tends to lose her cool at bad times. Even her on-track results don’t follow the expected script.
Kaehler’s work is smooth and sleek at the sentence level. As a fan of both well written mystery and car racing, I found her books an excellent combination of the two that held my attention throughout. Throw in a fiery female lead character who is easy to cheer for and yet makes you want to tell her “that was dumb” now and then and you have the Kate Reilly Racing Mysteries.
Kaehler says she hopes to write many more editions of the series. Having read her first two books, I’m looking forward to Kate’s next race, which Kaehler says is well underway.
For information on how to buy Kaehler’s books, go here.