I first met my blogmate, Simon Wood, about four years ago at a mystery author event I was helping run. During the author autograph session time, I went to chat with him about racing—because he’d said in his introduction that he’d been a racecar driver. He had indeed raced, he cheerfully told me, and what’s more, he’d written a racing mystery he was trying to find a publisher for.
I’m quite sure I looked like a landed fish, mouth gaping, gasping for air. You see, I was the one who’d written a racing mystery that I was trying to find a publisher for. I was the one who was using the phrase “the Dick Francis of auto racing,” though I tacked on “with a female racecar driver” as a coda. For a moment there, in that autograph session, it might have been high noon in the OK Corral. But mystery writers aren’t like that. We’re cooperative sorts.
So Simon and I kept in touch and cheered each other’s publishing contracts when they came through. He was kind enough to write a blurb for my book, and we started this blog, to talk about. And then, would you believe what happened? THERE WAS ANOTHER. We heard about this guy named Steve Ulfelder, with a racing mystery due out before ours. (There’s no truth to the rumor that Simon and I briefly considered forming a posse to kneecap Steve in hopes of preventing him from promoting his book on his own racecar. Just because we’re insanely jealous we can’t do the same thing. No truth at all. I deny it totally.)
So you can imagine my trepidation, right? I love my book (and it goes without saying, you all need to read it, right?). But what was I going to think about these others? And what if they were anything like mine? I’m a writer, I have an imagination … I’d painted vivid mental pictures of how awful things could actually be. So I read them … and they’re great. As the title of this blog says, you’ve got to read them. Because they’re both excellent, and give you a realistic view of the world of cars and racing, in totally different ways. (And in different ways than mine.)
Steve Ulfelder’s Purgatory Chasm stars Conway Sax, an ex NASCAR driver who’s straightened himself out with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. He’s making his living now as a mechanic, and in trying to help a friend with a car, stumbles into a mess of trouble that makes him a murder suspect in the eyes of the law and a near murder victim thanks to the real bad guys. It’s a novel of a man looking for redemption, even if he has to find it in ways the law doesn’t approve of. Steve creates wonderful, flawed, and interesting characters that you care about and root for. And want to read more of. Next, Steve?!
Simon Woods’ Did Not Finish centers on young Aidy Westlake, a driver trying to make it in the British Formula Ford ranks. What I liked about this book is that we get a glimpse of what it’s like to be struggling to make it in the lower levels of racing, working for your big break—and we get an especially good understanding of the kind of competition and camaraderie that happen on and off track. Aidy is a crusader for justice—not what the law says is right and wrong, but justice—and through his efforts to right various wrongs, the reader joins Aidy in learning a great deal about the kind of off-track games the big boys play that affect the lives of the rest of us peons. Aidy’s a great, compelling character who I’m eager to see grow in future novels.
And there you have it. Two novels I enjoyed the hell out of. They should be on any racing fan’s must-read list. Simon and Steve? Good on you!