Braking Points by Tammy Kaehler, the second book in the Kate Reilly racing mystery series (available April 2, 2013).
Kate Reilly loves her job. As an American Le Mans Series (ALMS) racecar driver on a team with a driver she respects and an owner who’s tough but fair, she feels like she’s finally getting her chance. She even has a new and coveted sponsor. On the track, though, anything can happen and heading into a turn, she tangles with well-liked NASCAR driver Miles Hansen in a wreck that sends him to the hospital and ends his season.
Suddenly, she’s the villain of the racing world, is being taunted and criticized online, and verbally attacked in public. Granted, calling Hansen’s fan club president a “redneck” on air didn’t help matters. Having gotten her seat after another driver died isn't exactly suspicion-free either.
And then, what should have been a pleasant reunion of three old racing friends turns deadly when her boyfriend finds her former friend dead behind the Tavern. Did someone murder Ellie? Were they really out to get Kate? Will the blogs ever find someone new to harangue? Will she lose her seat to another driver at the end of the season? Is someone really trying to kill her or just make her look bad?
Fans of racing will enjoy the behind-the-scenes perspective, getting to hang out in the paddock and pits with the drivers, imaginary though they may be. Frankly, I’m not exactly a race fan and was a little hesitant when I started, thinking there’d be too much focus on the sport. I was not only pleasantly surprised, but after reading it, I’d have to say I would be a fan if we got to ride around in the car. The driving descriptions were actually exciting, especially the big race at the end.
Barreling down the incline to Turn 6, still accelerating. Watching for my braking point out of the corner of my eye. There, braking hard. Downshift. Still braking. Downshift. Release brakes. Turn the wheel to clip the apex of 6, the banking helping me carry speed. Accelerate hard. Stand on the brakes again – maximum braking for the slowest corner. Downshift. Release brakes. Turn in for 7, another late apex. Feed the throttle on while unwinding the steering wheel coming out of the turn.
By the time my hands are straight again, I've got my foot to the floor. Yellow car entering Turn 7 behind me. Upshift to fourth. Fifth. Foot planted. Sixth. Check mirrors. Clear. Drift to the right side of the track. Flying. On a long straight with nothing but throttle, the growling V-8 is my whole world. I take a deep breath, focus on relaxing. Focus on speed. Remember I love my job. Remind myself to be precise.
Reilly is a likeable character. She’s not perfect, but her flaws humanize her, which contrasts nicely with the public image put forth by the drivers and their publicity teams throughout the book. It’s a terrific balance of the media image versus the private people behind them – a balance that seems to be bleeding into more professions than ever these days. Particularly interesting are the public thoughts of the character—the sound bites she gives he press and her tweets—juxtaposed with the private, off record comments she makes to friends, including some in the media.
Two minutes later, she had her sound bites: “Our car's responding well to our testing and adjustments so far, and we're optimistic for the race—but you know there's a lot of racing to do, and anything can happen,” and “I'm excited to race with the drivers and teams who've come from Europe to compete with us. Not knowing their styles and habits will make it harder to predict how they'll move, but it's great for the series and the fans to see new competition and faces.”
I squatted to help her assemble her documents, and she put a hand on my forearm, speaking in a low tone. “I heard you and Felix had words. I'm sorry if what I told you made it worse.”
“Don't worry about it. I'm tired of his crap, and I let him know I wouldn't stand for it anymore…”
Which brings up an important theme of the book: trust. How does one—especially someone in the spotlight—decide who and when to trust? At one point Kate realizes that as a driver traveling from city to city, most of her food and drinks come from restaurants, bars, and room service. If she can’t trust those workers not to poison her, how will she eat? As the posts on the Racing’s Ringer blog turn increasingly vicious and personal, she begins to suspect someone close to her in the racing community is either the Ringer or feeding the Ringer information. What feels innocent or benign in casual conversation becomes fuel for an out-of-control fire when misinterpreted, whether intentional or not.
In the end, Reilly will find some of her trust misplaced, but will have her faith reaffirmed for most. She will be gradually increasing her ties to the world and she might even be getting closer to love.
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Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).
Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.
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