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.
About the Author
Before trying her hand at fiction, Tammy Kaehler established a career writing marketing materials, feature articles, executive speeches, and technical documentation. A fateful stint in corporate hospitality introduced her to the racing world, which inspired the first Kate Reilly racing mystery. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars.
Read an Excerpt
Dead Man's SwitchA Kate Reilly Racing Mystery
By Tammy Kaehler
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2011 Tammy Kaehler
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy 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 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.
Chapter TwoAs usual, I'd gotten to the track early that morning. It was July, and the American Le Mans Series, or ALMS, was running at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, for the Fourth of July weekend. ALMS cars ran in the finale of four days of racing and celebrations that comprised the New England Grand Prix. Due to a local regulation against engine noise on Sundays, the racing world's standard race day, the main event would be run on Monday, July 5. Sunday would be a rare day off.
I was following the ALMS that year, traveling from race to race like the rest of the participants, though I didn't have a ride or team. I'd given myself a year to break into this series, which featured two classes of recognizable sportscars and two classes of prototypes racing together on "road" courses—tracks with hills and turns of varying sharpness to the left and right. No NASCAR ovals. In past years, I'd driven in some of the other races that accompanied the ALMS race, and now I wanted in on the marquee event.
I hoped my presence would remind everyone I was available as a full-time, occasional, or one-time-only driver. I'd take anything. I daydreamed of being offered a permanent ride for an ALMS team, but never asked myself what would have to happen to the other guy first.
I was more likely to get a ride if I was on the spot than sitting at home, so here I was, pulling my twenty-year-old Jeep Cherokee into Lime Rock's entrance on Saturday at 7:00 a.m., ready for the day of practice and qualifying.
I waved my Series ID at the sleepy attendant and drove through the main gate.
"Get some coffee!" My words prompted a smile and a wave before he closed his eyes again.
At that hour, he didn't need to be alert. Only a trickle of cars was arriving at the track, most carrying people like me who had passes or tickets and knew where they were going. I drove across the creaky wooden bridge that spanned the racetrack and continued past grass parking lots to my right. I slowed as I veered left and approached another attendant. She saw the parking pass I held up and waved me through.
A golf cart labored up the hill from the paddock as I cruised down, and I recognized the driver who angled toward me.
"Good morning! If it isn't Kate Reilly!"
I stopped in the middle of the road and leaned out the window, pleased to see one of the two main SPEED Channel announcers. "Hey, Benny. I didn't see you yesterday. What's new this weekend?"
"Nothing. Leastways nothing I know about. You gotten into any trouble here yet?" He liked to tease me about my efforts to scrounge up a living from the Series. Benny Stephens was the primary announcer, the journalist by training, of the broadcast team. His partner, Ian McAllister, was the racing expert, having driven and won in every kind of racecar, series, and track that existed. I enjoyed their stories from thirty years of experience in the racing world. In return, they liked my gumption—that was Ian's word.
"Not yet. But I keep trying, Benny."
"You heard anything I should know about?"
"Only that too many teams have forgotten how to race through corners for it to be a coincidence. But I'm sure you know more than I do."
"That one's a puzzler. I've heard rumors, but no answers yet. Let me know what you hear, about that or anything else."
"Sure thing." With a wave, I continued down the hill. Benny and Ian's sources were a hell of a lot better than mine when it came to the Series grapevine, but I'd pass them whatever I heard. They were friends of mine, but I never forgot I was storing their goodwill for the day they'd report on me as a driver here, too.
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. At Lime Rock, the paddock was located behind the pits along the front straight and in the interior of the one-and-a-half-mile track's first turn, the big, sweeping horseshoe called Big Bend. Each team had a temporary garage setup along the paddock's one-way loop road, where they could do everything from a tire change to an engine rebuild. At this race, the paddock loop wasn't full of team setups, and the end of it was given over to general parking for passenger cars. 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 twisted the key in the lock, I looked at my reflection in the 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.
Chapter ThreeI stopped on the crossroad that led to pit row on my right, scanning for someone familiar. Ahead: crew working on the M&Ms-logoed prototype car. I didn't know anyone there. To the left: a lone mechanic wrenching under the hood of the Saleen. I didn't know anyone there either. My best friend Holly was probably in her team's paddock, but she was at the farthest point away, over near the ALMS trailer. The Series people, that's who I needed. I took two steps and saw a man in an ALMS shirt writing on a clipboard. I was running toward him before I realized it was Stuart Telarday, the most annoying member of the ALMS staff and the third most annoying person on the planet.
I knew the feeling was mutual from the cranky look he gave me when I reached him.
"Stuart. Someone. The end of the paddock," I gasped, pointing back toward my car. "You'd better come. Look. Help." I was disproportionately out of breath for the brief run I'd had to reach him, and I knew he could see my distress.
"Kate? What's wrong? There shouldn't be any problem." He set off at a fast pace.
"Wade. Becker. By the trash can," I panted, trying to calm down, breathe, and keep up with him. "I hit him. Maybe." My words got jerky, as I spoke my thoughts aloud. "I think. Oh, God. Dead."
I led him to my car and gestured to the front, closing my eyes against what I knew he was seeing: Wade lying on his side, jaw slack, eyes open, skin almost blue. Stuart straightened with a grim expression, pulled out his cell phone, and flipped it open.
"Damn!" He closed it and looked at the Michelin Tower looming above the finish line a few hundred yards away. "No cell phone reception." He clenched his jaw and looked back at Wade.
I tried to think of anything other than the memory of Wade's open, lifeless eyes. "I think my cell works. Hang on." I retrieved my phone from my car. "Stuart? Should I move my car out of the way?"
Stuart took the phone from me. "Absolutely not. Everything needs to stay as-is. You said you hit him?"
"No! I mean, maybe. But only when I parked just now. I thought I bumped the trash barrel. I didn't know...." I leaned my head against the car window.
Stuart raised an eyebrow. "Why didn't you call someone?"
I was blank. Why hadn't I? "I panicked. I didn't want to deal with this alone. It's nothing to do with me."
"Hmmmm." He looked like he didn't know whether to believe me or not, but as that was how he always looked at me, I ignored him. I wrapped my arms around myself and listened to his conversation.
"Yes, I'll send someone to meet the officers at the entrance to the track. Yes, I'll stay—we'll stay here. Thank you." He pushed the button to end the call and looked at me again. Then he got on the radio that the ALMS employees used and called for help.
"Attention ALMS staff: we have an emergency at the end of the paddock near the footbridge. I have already contacted the proper authorities, and they are en route. Allison, meet officers at the front gate. Hamilton, Tony, and Michelle, get here with me, and get four other support staff to block all access to the paddock road past the road to Pit Out. I repeat: stop all but emergency personnel."
I didn't hear responses, but I assumed he received some, from the way he pressed the earpiece of his radio system into his ear. I snorted to myself: like a secret agent—and I bet he enjoys that look. To avoid thinking about Wade, I studied Stuart, wondering why he bothered me so much. It shouldn't be his looks, since he was, as my friend Holly put it, "one gorgeous hunk of a man." He was tall, probably six feet, with sandy hair and green eyes—one of those all-American types, except that he'd come to America early in life by way of German birth and Scottish ancestry. I'd never seen him not dressed in his neat-as-a-pin uniform of black trousers, black dress shoes, pressed white ALMS shirt, secret agent radio, ID, and clipboard. And I'd never seen him smile. The only hints of personality came through in his sunglasses—severe, heavy-rimmed, 1950s-engineer tortoiseshell numbers—and in his wavy hair that by the end of the day flopped onto his forehead. His hair was the only part of him that ever looked disheveled. That alone was intimidating.
Overall, Stuart Telarday stopped just short of being slick. That was the problem. I hated slick, couldn't trust it. But he had to be slick to be the Vice President of Operations and Communications for the American Le Mans Series at only thirty-three. The ALMS wasn't a huge operation, but he'd risen fast and proven himself a capable organizer and salesperson. Holly claimed she wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating crackers—or any other reason—but he still made my lip curl.
He stopped listening to his radio and studied me. "Everyone's on the way. What happened, anyway?"
I extended a hand for my cell phone, and after a moment's hesitation, he returned it. I took a deep breath and the reality of the fact that I'd discovered a dead guy slammed into me again.
"I got to the track, drove down here, and parked." I gulped and went on. "I guess I was focusing on the track. I squeezed in here and bumped the trash barrel—oh God, I hope it was the trash barrel."
"Then you looked and found him?"
I rubbed my arms for warmth. "No. I got out of the car and stood on my bumper to look at the track. Then I saw him."
"So you don't know what happened? To him?"
"Wha—No! Of course not. Why—what—I mean—no!"
Stuart raised a hand. "OK. You didn't look at him? Touch him?"
What was he, the police? Oh no, I was going to have to talk with police about this, too. "Yes. I mean, first I thought it was just a pile of clothes—or a drunk sleeping it off. I touched his shoulder to see. Then I ran for help." I was freezing. I opened my car door again, tossed the cell phone on my seat, and grabbed a sweatshirt.
I was struggling into it when I heard Stuart asking if I'd liked Wade. I shoved my left arm through the sleeve and blinked at him. "I didn't know him. What the hell kind of question is that? And why are you asking me these kinds of questions? Who elected you God?"
He spoke to me with exaggerated patience. "Kate, we have a hell of a situation on our hands. My job is to keep the Series running smoothly, so I want all the information I can get." His face started to flush and his voice to rise. "And I'd say you'd better damn well get used to these questions, because you found Wade's body. Wade, who was a healthy guy."
I didn't understand.
Excerpted from Dead Man's Switch by Tammy Kaehler Copyright © 2011 by Tammy Kaehler. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Freelance driver Kate Reilly hopes to hook up with a racing team at the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) circuit. She arrives very early at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut for the Fourth of July New England Grand Prix in case someone needs a late replacement driver. As she gets out of her vehicle she sees the corpse of Corvette driver Wade Becker. Police Detective Jolley interrogates Kate as if he suspects she killed the victim. She realizes in his mind she had the employment motive; others on the circuit assume the same thing as she and Becker becomes a gossip entry. Kate wants to prove her innocence so she investigates only to affirm what she knew about Becker; that many people loathed him. This is a super racing amateur sleuth that works as a delightful whodunit, but it is the insight into life at the track that brings the freshness. The story line is fast-paced as readers will believe they are strapped in the Corvette while Kate takes us around the track. Racing fans or not, readers will enjoy Kate's insightful tour of the circuit while she also investigates who murdered Becker. Harriet Klausner
Race to Solve the Murder Kate Reilly is going from track to track in the American Le Mans Series, hoping that being in the right place at the right time will land her a permanent job racing. Sadly, it also lands her at the wrong place at the wrong time when she finds the body of Wade Becker under her car. The silver lining in this cloud is that she gets his spot on the racing team. However, she also lands on the official and unofficial suspect list for Wade's murder. Not only are the police interested in her whereabouts and motives, but rumors on the track are swirling as well. So Kate takes it upon herself to investigate Wade's death. The more she investigates, the more she learns that Wade wasn't a nice man with too many enemies. Can she find the killer before her reputation is dead while still being ready to race? Not being a fan of racing, I was a little reluctant to pick up this book. And maybe that was one reason I didn't quite connect to it. I found many of the passages designed to explain the sport to newbies like me long and tedious, slowing down the plot. The characters were a bit underdeveloped as well. However, things definitely came together for the climax, which not only featured a great racing scene, but a logical conclusion to the mystery. Overall, I think this debut needed a little more work. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as polished as it could have been either.
So, excited that someone finally did a series on racing and mystery. Every detailed, exciting, almost like your in the car with Kate. From one race girl to the author, keep grabbing the flag and keep your engine running. Its a zoom zoom to first place writing.
You don’t have to be a racing fan to enjoy Dead Man’s Switch. Kate Reilly has enough intelligence to steer herself into trouble, before she steers herself back out. The racing sequences prove well-researched enough to satisfy even the most intelligent stock car fan, but it’s not enough to detract from the overall story, nor is it enough to dissatisfy even the most casual reader. Kate’s voice proves a bit young and inexperienced, except when she’s behind the wheel of her Corvette and taking on the more seasoned drivers on the track. The mystery proves interesting, and coupled with the driving, it increases the pace of the tale, as both Kate and the reader race to the checkered flag. If you enjoy amateur sleuths, and racing, or even if you don’t enjoy racing, you’ll want to pick up this book, otherwise you’ll be sorry you missed out on all the burned rubber. Robert Downs Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator