But I’ve Got the Fastest Set of Wheels in Town*

As this is posted, it would have been Ferruccio Lamborghini’s 101st birthday. As you’ll know, the Lamborghini name is associated with world-class racing cars, among other sorts of vehicles. To own a ‘Lambo’ is certainly a status symbol in a lot of places.

Of course, not everyone is passionate about racing cars. But Formula One, NASCAR, and other auto racing have plenty of devoted fans. And there is something about the feeling of driving a car that’s build for speed.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that driving and racing pop up in crime fiction. There are plenty of opportunities for disparate people to interact, there’s the racecourse setting, and there’s lots of money involved. And even off the course and out of the circuit, racecars and their drivers can add to a story.

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, for instance, we are introduced to Anthony Marston. He’s one of ten people who’ve been invited for a stay on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. Each guest has accepted the invitation for different reasons, and the visit begins as they all arrive on the island. Their host hasn’t made an appearance, but dinner is served, and everyone settles in. Then, everyone’s shocked when each person is accused of causing the death of at least one other person. In Marston’s case, it’s the deaths of two children in a hit-and-run incident. It comes out that Marston is very proud of his racing-class car, and enjoys driving it – fast. Not long after the accusations, Marston dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that first night, another person dies. Then another. Soon it’s clear that someone has targeted all of the guests. The survivors will have to find and stop the killer if they intend to stay alive.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels will know that one of the ‘regulars’ in the series is his friend, Ingrid Sjostrom. She’s a Swedish-born racecar driver whom we meet in the first novel, The Shape of Water. Ingrid is a free spirit, who does things very much her own way. In this first outing for Montalbano, Ingrid’s connected with the case of the death of Silvio Luperello, an up-and-coming politician. In fact, she provides some very helpful assistance as Montalbano and his team investigate. Over time, she and Montalbano develop an interesting sort of friendship. It’s not a love affair – not really. But it’s a complex relationship, and it adds layers of interest to the series.

There are even a few series featuring the racing circuit and racecar drivers. For example, Tammy Kaehler’s series features Kate Reilly, who drives in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) that includes races and series of races in different parts of the US. When the first Kate Reilly novel, Dead Man’s Switch, begins, Reilly is a hanger-on at the ALMS, hoping for a permanent spot on the tour and her own crew. She’s willing to take a temporary, or even one-time-only lane, as that’s one of the few ways a driver can break into the circuit. She arrives at the track one day, and discovers the body of another driver, Wade Becker. Since she found his body, Reilly is one of the ‘people of interest’ in the case. She’s also ‘of interest’ because with Becker dead, she now has a chance to race with Becker’s team. Partly to clear her name, Reilly starts asking questions. And in the end, she learns that Becker’s death had little to do with his driving ability.

Those familiar with Janet Evanovich may know that she’s also written another series, featuring Alexandra ‘Barney’ Barnaby. Barney’s a mechanic who grew up, so to speak, in her father’s garage. She’s also a former stock car racer who’s

‘…lost more races than I won.’

So, she’s not on the circuit anymore. In the first novel, Metro Girl, she travels from her native Baltimore to Miami when she gets an unsettling call from her brother, ‘Wild Bill,’ also a racecar driver. Bill tells her that he has to leave Miami for a while, and not to worry. The call ends too abruptly, and Barney’s worried, so she decides to see for herself if her brother is all right. There, she discovers Bill is missing, and his apartment’s been ransacked. He’s left Miami on a boat belonging to another NASCAR driver named Sam Hooker, so Hooker is as interested in finding out what happened to ‘Wild Bill’ as anyone else is. Together, he and Barney begin to put the pieces together. They find that there’s much more going on here than a reckless young man taking off in someone else’s boat. There is real danger – and murder – ahead of them.

Simon Wood has written two novels (thus far) featuring Formula racecar driver Aidy Westlake, who drives on the British circuit. In the first story, Did Not Finish, championship driver Alex Fanning is killed not long after he was threatened by his rival, Derek Deacon. There seems to be more to it than jealousy, though. There are several attempts to quash the investigation, including destroying the recording of the race in which Fanning died. It looks as though the whole thing will be covered up, and Westlake wants to know why. It turns out that this is a case of far-reaching fraud and conspiracy.

See what I mean? It can be exhilarating to drive a racing-quality car. And, for those who enjoy the competition, racing offers an excitement all its own. But it’s certainly not always safe. And I’m not just talking about the speed of the car…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beach Boys’ Little Deuce Coupe 


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Janet Evanovich, Simon Wood, Tammy Kaehler

16 responses to “But I’ve Got the Fastest Set of Wheels in Town*

  1. I’ve never understood the appeal of driving fast cars (although I like watching them race in Formula 1, but not on the road). Far too easy to end up having an accident! I certainly remember the unremorseful Anthony Marston.
    There is of course a tragic accident in the first few pages of Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, which leads to very sad consequences for everyone involved.

    • You’re quite right about the Mackintosh, Marina Sofia. Thank you for filling in that blank. I know what you mean, too, about getting into accidents if you drive too fast. I think about that, too! I haven’t had too many opportunities to see Formula One racing on a track, but the races I have seen, I’ve liked.

  2. I’ve always liked the role a fatal car crash plays in James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice”–just when our sleazy protagonist, Frank, thinks he’s got it made in the shade with Cora, an untimely accident serves him his just desserts! 🙂

  3. Col

    I enjoyed Drive by James Sallis, the protagonist is a stunt driver by day and drives for criminals by night. Duane Swierczynski also had a book about a getaway driver – The Wheelman.

  4. I love Dorothy L Sayers’ books, as you well know, but one thing that irritates is that Lord Peter Wimsey has to be a superb practitioner in everything he puts his mind to… and driving is no exception. He had fancy big cars, Lagondas, and he calls them Mrs Merdle, and he drives them far too fast but – of course ‘skilfully’.

    • Oh, I know what you mean, Moira. It would be nice if Wimsey were more like the rest of us: good at some things, not at others. I remember that driving thing, now you mention it, and I’m glad you brought it up. It is a bit irritating, as you say. But it’s a great example of what I had mind with this post, so thanks.

  5. kathy d

    This isn’t a topic I’ve encountered, except for Ingrid in Montalbano’s life. And I can’t figure out their relationship. It’s too sophisticated for my brain to figure out. They do like to drink together and talk, and Ingrid does help Montalbano in investigations. But how does Livia feel about them? Does she know?
    There is a terrible car crash in Defending Jacob near the end, which was on purpose.
    This is such an awful topic in real life. Fatal car crashes do happen with people speeding, often under the influence of substances.

    • They do, indeed, Kathy. And it’s always so sad when lives are lost that way. You ask an interesting question about Ingrid Sjostrom. Her relationship with Montalbano is complex and very hard to describe. It’s not an affair. Yet, it’s not a ‘typical’ friendship (is there one?). She helps on his cases, but she’s not really a detective. It’s an interesting relationship, and I think it does add to the stories.

  6. tracybham

    I don’t remember anything about fast cars in mysteries, except for James Bond in the movies, and I am not sure any of that happens in the books. I do know that Archie Goodwin is always excited when Nero Wolfe gets a new car, because he gets to drive it.

    • You’re right about that, Tracy. Archie Goodwin does love cars, even though he’s not a professional driver. I think that’s an interesting part of his personality, and I”m glad you brought that up.

  7. Pingback: Writing Links 5/1/17 – Where Genres Collide

  8. The world of car racing is indeed very fascinating, because it’s like a world of its own, with its own rules, and not many people is familiar with it. It adds a lot to the mystery, I suppose.

    I was very surprise to discover there are series of mystery novels set in this world. Haven’t heard of them before.

    Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

    • You’re right, Jazzfeathers, that the world of racing is a world unto itself. It has its own rules and ways of thinking, and I think that’s fascinating. It’s a unique culture. And, yes, that uniqueness does add a layer to a myster.

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