Tammy Kaehler, left, turned her fascination with auto racing into a series about racecar driver Kate Reilly. Kiss the Bricks is the fifth in this series. Her novels Braking Points, Avoidable Contact, and Red Flags also have won her awards from automotive journalists.
Here’s a question and answer session with Kaehler in which she discusses her novels.
In your novels featuring Kate Reilly, how are you able to generate a crime plot that works logically with the world of racing?
I always say that the racing world is a microcosm of the larger world, just with a little more drama and occasionally higher stakes. So most any crime is still going to be relevant in the racing world, because people are people wherever they go. That said, racing requires enormous amounts of money (they say the only way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a big one), which really has driven people to crime in the past. My story line in Kiss the Bricks about drug smuggling to pay for racing is taken directly from real life. Honestly, with all the competition, speed, violence, rock-star personas, egos, glamour, and money floating around the racing world, it's not hard to imagine every kind of crime or criminal being attracted to it. In some ways, it's only surprising there aren't more crimes.
In addition, people in the racing world are involved in every kind of business and pursuit, whether they're drivers (including amateurs with other day jobs), sponsors, or fans. So I've always been able to tie any outlandish plot idea to someone involved in racing without any trouble.
Kiss the Bricks is set against the backdrop of the Indy 500. What were some of the highlights of being there?
The event is referred to as "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," which is absolutely a true description, so anytime I get to see all of the pomp, circumstance, and competition in person, it's amazing. It's also fantastic to be there in person to see my primary book source and friend, Indy 500 competitor Pippa Mann, take to the track in person—it's a real thrill to see someone you know wheeling a car at 230 mph! But by far the most incredible experience, which I've been lucky enough to do for two years now, is actually working in the pits as an assistant spotter for the broadcast team (ESPN/ABC) during the race. It's a behind-the-scenes perspective that most people don't get.
Who were your primary influences in the mystery genre?
I was a mystery reader for years, and in fact, I can't remember when I wasn't dipping into The Complete Sherlock Holmes that was on my parents' shelf as a kid. I also loved Nancy Drew and later Agatha Christie's books. But it was really the steeple-chasing mysteries written by Dick Francis that inspired and influenced me to create Kate's world, because I wanted to entertain readers and teach them about a world they probably don't know anything about. I wanted to be the Dick Francis of auto racing with a female protagonist. I still do!
How directly do you connect to the racing world? And how do you conduct your research for the racing scenes?
Research is a huge part of what I do, because I've always made a point of every technical detail being correct. I ask a ton of questions. I go to races to keep in touch with the sources and friends I have, and by doing so, manage to meet more and more people. I'm not shy about asking for help, even for details as small as top speed down the front straight at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Of course, the racing scenes are the most critical, and I rely heavily on professional drivers to make sure I'm doing it right. In every book, I watch as many videos as possible, including in-car video of the exact car at the exact racetrack, and I ask questions of a driver before writing the scenes. The biggest step is then getting a pro to check the driving scenes and correct them. With Kiss the Bricks, Pippa Mann was an enormous help. I sent her lists and lists of questions—on everything from how to adjust the car to what she eats before the race—and she responded with pages and pages of answers. Then we went back and forth twice on the driving scenes, so that I had every detail right.
Do you have aspirations to become a competitive driver yourself?
No aspirations at all! While confident and comfortable on the L.A. freeways, I'm a chicken behind the wheel of a racecar, in part because I've come to appreciate the incredible skill professional drivers have. I absolutely trust the pros I've ridden with to not crash, and I understand just how much work it would take to get my skill to the same level. Not going to happen!
Since Father’s Day is June 18, let’s celebrate two TV fathers whose concern and love for their children bring a deeper understanding of their characters to the plots.
Those fathers are Harry Bosch in Bosch, available on Amazon Prime and based on the novels by Michael Connelly, and Mike Ehrmantraut on Better Call Saul, wrapping up its third season on the AMC channel.
In Connelly’s novels, Bosch’s daughter Maddie didn’t show up until his ninth novel, Lost Light, published in 2003. But each season of Bosch on Amazon Prime is a combination of several novels. It makes sense to have Maddie appear as a teenager, given the age and experience of Harry at this point in time.
Titus Welliver is outstanding as Los Angeles Police Department Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, who is a homicide detective in the Hollywood Division (for those few readers who do not know this). Harry’s skills as a detective, and his tendency to be a bit of a lone wolf, are paramount to the series. The TV series keeps the spirit of Connelly’s novels as well as the intense characters that the author has honed throughout his novels.
But Harry’s relationship with his teenage daughter, Maddie, winningly played by Madison Lintz, adds a deeper aspect to Harry. For most of the three seasons of Bosch, Maddie has called her father Harry. It makes sense because for most of her life he has been a bit of a stranger, living in a different city, and sometimes a different country.
Relationships are hard for Harry, but Maddie is the one person for whom he has unconditional love.
The moment when Maddie finally calls him “Dad” is a turning point for both. And the look of extreme love and pride and even thankfulness that flitters across Welliver’s face is naked emotion, something Harry usually doesn’t show.
We see his hurt when Maddie tells Harry that he is like a turtle who does not let anyone else under his shell, even her at times. Deep in Season Three, Harry sits on the edge of Maddie’s bed while she is asleep, worried that something he has done could bring harm to his child. Again, Welliver shows the unconditional love that Harry has for his child and how he would do anything to protect her.
The chemistry between father and daughter is perfect. Lintz is a poised young actress who also appeared during the first two seasons of AMC's postapocalyptic series The Walking Dead.
The third season of Bosch is now on Amazon Prime, and it’s been renewed for a fourth season.
Better Call Saul
For Better Call Saul’s Mike Ehrmantraut, his granddaughter Kaylee is the only person he cares about.
Mike’s love for Kaylee is the sole pure thing in his life, and also his only connection to humanity. She is the reason why he pushes himself into doing things not quite legal, as he wants to be able to leave her as much money as he can. There is nothing he would not do to make life better for Kaylee and his daughter-in-law.
Jonathan Banks never falters in his portrayal of Mike Ehrmantraut, showing his compassion and love for Kaylee as well as his hardened soul when dealing with others. Banks has long been a go-to character actor but now that he is older he is even better. His hangdog look shows a complex character beneath.
Part of his love for his granddaughter stems from the guilt he carries about his deceased son. As a cop in Philadelphia, Mike was involved in corruption. He knows his son was murdered because of the sins he committed.
Mike also knows that his actions could bring harm to his remaining family, even as he tries to shield them. The scene in which he notices the twin assassins watching his granddaughter, and he literally tries to shield her with his body, tells us everything we need to know about Mike.
Top: Titus Welliver and Madison Lintz on the set of Bosch; photo courtesy Amazon Prime
Bottom: Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) with his granddaughter Kaylee in Better Call Saul; photo courtesy AMC