By Brett Ashley Hawkins
With the sudden closure announcements for two Borders bookstores in Long Beach, the future of printed media is in question, with its outlets slowly dwindling in numbers. One Bixby Terrace resident and documentation manager, Tammy Kaehler, doesn’t fear the changing times as she prepares to release her first murder-mystery novel, Dead Man’s Switch, this August. The book is the first of the Kate Reilly series, a collection of mystery novels all related to the world of racecar driving, to be released through Poisoned Pen Press.
“My literary agent, Lucienne Diver, submitted the manuscript of Dead Man’s Switch to them,” Kaehler said. “The fabulous Barbara Peters, editor at Poisoned Pen Press, suggested I make some changes to it. When I did so last July, they offered me a contract to publish it.”
In Dead Man’s Switch, racecar-driving hopeful, Kate Reilly, attempts to land a spot in the American Le Mans Series, but discovers a driver’s corpse in the process. Receiving that driver’s seat in the competition, Reilly gets a chance to live her dream but is instantly made a top suspect in the murder investigation.
With little time to prepare to race a Corvette at Lime Rock Park, Reilly takes a detour into the role of investigator and quickly makes acquaintance with the rest of the team, other possible suspects. She comes across several clues along the way, including a list of blackmail victims, questionable car performance, a jealous husband, an adulterous wife, and other drivers and crew lacking any sympathy for the dead driver.
As the race quickly approaches, Reilly must choose which drivers and crews she can trust to gather alibis, dispel the rumors of breakups and backstabbing, and find the killer through it all. If Reilly fails to discover the murderer, she stands to lose her career, her reputation, and her credibility within the racing industry.
Kaehler’s book has received early praise from both the literary and racing worlds alike. Joan Hansen, the founder of the Men of Mystery Festival, wrote in her review, “[the book is] a wild ride with treacherous twists and threatening turns. I was captured by her exquisite writing, her ability to depict that world so vividly, and her skill in weaving a complicated but believable plot.”
Andrew Davis, a racecar driver for Stevenson Motorsports, commented on the accuracy and the authenticity of the racing scenes described in the book. “It captures the true essence of what goes on at the racetrack,” he said.
“I wrote Dead Man’s Switch in about a year and a half, starting about six years ago,” Kaehler said. “Four years later I spent three solid months overhauling it, making substantial additions, revisions, and edits that were suggested by my publisher.”
When forming the concept of her book, Kaehler thought that having it be a mystery would intensify an already high-pressure world. “My love of mysteries came first, even before writing fiction and before an interest in racing,” Kaehler said. “I’ve always devoured mysteries, read them as fast as I possibly could. It was eight years ago that I first wrote fiction, and a year later that I was plunged into the racing world. I wanted to tell a story that gave others a look inside that world, and a mystery is what came the most naturally to me.”
“Alternatively, you could say that I looked around at the high-glamour spectacle that is racing– where athletes are treated like rock stars and sponsors spend big dollars for access to the stars and cars– and thought, ‘What a great setting for murder!’ That’s the kind of twisted thinking you get from mystery writers,” Kaehler said.
With her concept developed, Kaehler threw herself headfirst into the racing industry to research and to find inspiration. “My research wasn’t a focused, isolated activity, rather an ongoing one, from the moment I had the idea to write the book to the present day,” Kaehler said. “Basically, I read about and watched as much racing as I could get my hands on. Along the way, I attended a three-day racing school to learn what it really felt like behind the wheel of a racecar, and I talked to as many drivers, team staff, and racing series folks as possible. I lurked around the paddock at every opportunity, soaking it all in. I still do.”
The three-day racing school Kaehler attended pushed her beyond what she thought she could achieve, as she doesn’t find herself that physically adventurous. “Besides this book, I’m proud of facing down my fears about what could go wrong in racing school,” Kaehler said. “By the end of the third day, I didn’t just get past the abject terror I felt, I actually enjoyed squealing tires through a turn and hitting 117 miles per hour on the backstretch.”
With bookstores disappearing all around Long Beach, Kaehler doesn’t fear any lack of accessibility for residents to get her book. “More bookstores are always better, and I’ve been sorry to see Borders stores closing,” Kaehler said. “However, in terms of people being able to find my book, independent bookstores, such as Apostrophe Books in Belmont Shore and A Castle of Books in Bixby Knolls, are still going strong, and [independent bookstores] have always been the champions of new authors, especially those of us from smaller presses. In addition, I know more and more people these days are shopping for their reading material online– whether print or e-book versions.” Kaehler’s book will also be available for preorder online at Amazon’s, Barnes & Noble’s, and IndieBound’s websites.
Kaehler’s book hits the shelves in August, but she is still hard at work in continuing the series. “What’s next is finishing the second of Kate’s adventures, which sees her in the same car and team, but a year later at two different racetracks,” Kaehler said. “Dead Man’s Switch is the first of a series. I aim to have Kate drive as many of the fantastic races and racetracks around the world as possible, including the 24 Hours of Daytona, a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Indy 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco Grand Prix. I’m also sure I’ll sneak a book about the Long Beach Grand Prix in there at some point.”