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Dead Man's Switch

Dead Man's Switch, March 2011
Kate Reilly Mysteries
by Tammy Kaehler

Poisoned Pen Press
Featuring: Kate Reilly
294 pages
ISBN: 1590588819
EAN: 9781590588819
Hardcover
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"There's a Race on and off the Track When a Racer (Literally) Bumps into a Dead Body"

Fresh Fiction Review

Dead Man's Switch
Tammy Kaehler

Reviewed by Min Jung
Posted May 21, 2011

Mystery Private Eye

Kate Reilly has worked all her life to pursue her dreams of getting a ride, which is racing talk for getting a full-time driving job, on the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) circuit. While she has subbed in for drivers occasionally and is known on the circuit, she is still trying to chase the elusive dream.

On Fourth of July weekend at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, she finally gets an opportunity to prove that she deserves a full-time ride when she is asked to sub in for Wade Becker, a well-known driver. However, she gets this opportunity because Wade's body was discovered that weekend. And, unfortunately, she was the one to discover it. More specifically, it was her car's bumper that Wade's body was found under.

Soon, Kate is the primary suspect in Wade's murder. Her energy is split between trying to prove her innocence and trying to prepare for the race. For those who are familiar with the racing world, they will know that race weekend includes not only practice and qualifying, but also sponsor meetings, press interviews, and sometimes meet-and-greets with fans who have won sweepstakes or contests. Of course, Kate also needs to meet with the team to get up to speed on the car and the track since she wasn't prepared to race this weekend, let alone for this particular team and in this car.

In her sparse off-time, Kate tries to play detective by figuring out who had a motive for killing Wade, but soon finds out that Wade wasn't nearly as liked as he was talented. Soon enough, she starts angering various people, including her would-be owner, the team sponsor, and other drivers.

As a long-time motorsports fan AND a mystery fan, I highly enjoyed this book. It wasn't condescending to those with racing knowledge, yet I don't think it would be overwhelming to those with no racing knowledge. There were a few inaccuracies, but I don't necessarily expect authors to be experts when writing fiction, and I make exceptions for artistic license, especially for the sake of good drama, which this was chock full of!

The characters were full of life and completely believable. Kate was aggressive but not pushy, and she didn't make a big deal of being a "female driver," as some of the women on the racing circuit are wont to do, which quickly gets old. The Aunt Tee character was most excellent, and I wish we could have seen more of her and her relationship with the other characters.

I really hope this becomes a series.

Learn more about Dead Man's Switch

SUMMARY

Aspiring racecar driver Kate Reilly goes looking for a full time ride in the American Le Mans Series-and stumbles over a dead driver. When she takes that driver's job just hours later, she also takes pole position on the list of suspects in his murder. Suddenly she's in the hot seat with little time to clear her name and get ready to race a Corvette at Lime Rock Park.

Amidst suspicion, Kate buckles down, quickly getting to know the racecar and team, bumping into plenty of suspects who might have committed murder. Clues fly at her as fast as the turns on the track, including a cryptic list of blackmail victims, unexplainable car performance at racing speed, a jealous husband with an adulterous wife, and drivers and crew who are openly happy her predecessor is dead. Kate finds exhilaration and hazards exist on and off track as she throttles up both the Corvette's V8 and a murder investigation.

The green flag countdown ticks away, and Kate must decide who she can trust to help probe alibis, untangle rumors of team breakups and personal betrayals, and determine whose drive to win also constitutes a willingness to kill. Because what's at stake in Kate's race to the truth is her career … only by uncovering a murderer can Kate restore her reputation and prove she belongs in the racing world.

Excerpt

(from Chapters 1-2)

My first big break in auto racing came at the expense of someone’s life. But I took it.

You have to have that attitude in racing. Sometimes you lose because your clutch cable breaks or your tire blows, and sometimes you win because disasters strike faster teams. No asterisks get posted next to those wins, no explanations. It’s just racing. Sometimes you have it rough, and sometimes you get lucky.

On this day, I got lucky and the driver I replaced … “unlucky” would be an understatement. We’re talking about murder.

I knew I’d endure weeks of sideways glances and sneers for a couple reasons. First, I’d be labeled an opportunist. It wouldn’t be personal, because any driver hired as a replacement would receive the same treatment. Second, my skills—or lack thereof. She could only get a ride by someone dropping dead. I’d have the last laugh from the podium at those naysayers.

What I didn’t anticipate were the whispers that maybe I’d engineered my predecessor’s death to get the ride. I wasn’t sure whether to be offended, scared that someone who counted would believe them, or flattered that someone might think of me as ruthless.

I was female. I was twenty-four. I’d been steadily working my way up the auto racing food chain since I was twelve. I knew myself to be tenacious, aggressive, and stubborn. The racing world saw me as reserved and feminine, yet competent—and I worked hard for it. But the bottom line, to the good old boys of the racing world, was that I was too female to be ruthless.

I hadn’t heard those whispers yet, and I wasn’t thinking beyond the ride that was being handed to me on a silver platter. I was going to be paid to drive for one race, and maybe for the remainder of the season. Despite what followed, I’d make the same choice again in a heartbeat.

_______________________________

I reached the bottom of the hill and turned right, heading toward the paddock. On impulse, I pulled over and turned off the engine. I was stopped in a strict no-parking zone, but I hopped out anyway and crossed the road, stopping at the fence that separated it from the pits. I curled my fingers into the chain link and took a deep breath. I loved this time of day at the track. Still some moist-earth smell and coolness from the thunderstorms the night before. Though I could hear noises from paddock garages, the racecars had yet to be fired up, and the birds had yet to be scared away.

A sense of impending action, possibility, and even tension hung in the air. These moments rejuvenated me. In them, I knew one day I’d drive the track as part of a professional team contending for a championship. One day I’d own this race. With a nod, I pushed off from the fence.

Back in my Jeep, I headed for a parking space at the far end of the infield. I drove around until I found an open space on the grass, finally squeezing between an obvious white rental on my left and a black-and-white-checked oil drum turned into a trash barrel on my right. I was pointing at the end of the track’s Main Straight, separated from it by only a few yards of grass and another chain link fence.

My attention was half on the track and half on my parking job, and I jerked to a halt as I saw the trash barrel wiggle and felt a bump. I turned off the engine and sat looking at Big Bend. For the two hundred and thirty-seventh time I calculated where I’d brake from 160 miles an hour and start the turn. I’d ridden around the track with a friend in a rental car last season. I’d also walked every inch of it, but I’d yet to drive that straightaway at speed.

I pulled the keys from the ignition, slung the lanyard with my ID around my neck, and got out of the car. As I pushed the lock button on the remote, I looked at my reflection in the rear window, reaching up to smooth stray shoulder-length hairs. My hair was stick-straight and black, two characteristics that took too much time and too many salon products to bother changing. Hair, fine. Face, fine. Same fair skin and blue eyes as always, touched up with a bit of powder and mascara. I looked down at myself. Comfortable dark sneakers, clean jeans, short-sleeve, tan button-down shirt—this one logoed by VP Racing Fuels, a sponsor of the Star Mazda series. My sunglasses were on my head—though the sun had yet to break through the overcast. My black baseball hat from Jean Richard, the official timekeeper of the ALMS, was in the car, as was the weekend’s program and my all-important notebook, where I kept notes on drivers, cars, teams, and tracks. At least I look the part of the racing veteran, I thought.

I climbed onto my front bumper to look over the fence at the track, standing sideways, one foot in front of the other, and balancing with my fingers on the car’s hood. I twisted to look back at the empty pit row, and followed the Straight down to the turn, seeing more details of the track surface from my perch. I was starting to jump down when I noticed a pile of dark fabric on the ground next to the trash barrel. Under the front of my car. I stared at it longer than it deserved, not understanding why.

Were there feet and shoes attached to the pile of cloth? My insides clutched. Part of a man’s body was under my bumper. I lost my balance, and scrambled to the ground, knees wobbling. I darted a glance under the car and saw my tire against the guy’s leg, but not on it. I hoped.

I swallowed, looked again. I wasn’t sure. I reached out a hand to shake his shoulder. No response. I tugged slightly, rolling him onto his back—then recoiled, cringing. Two facts were immediately clear. This was Corvette driver Wade Becker lying there. And Wade was very dead.

I froze. Then I heard my own ragged inhale as I turned and ran for help.


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