Closing Speed - A Review
Here's what your next book purchase should be - Closing Speed a first novel by Ted West.
Here's why. Closing Speed - woven into the fabric of the 1970 World Championship of Makes - is simply the most intense racing novel ever written.
West kidnaps the reader early as the main protagonist - American racing journalist Nick Thorne - stumbles into the George-and-Martha inner sanctum of European racing's royalty. Who has not fantasized about being an insider in your favorite pastime?
Closing Speed is the breathless tale of Thorne's bullet-train streak from bright-eyed acolyte at Brands Hatch in early April to damaged emotional goods by the end of May - a six-week lifetime in 335 pages.
The reader is hurled back into that era when motor racing was a lethal trade. Racing movies from the '60s and '70s - Grand Prix, Le Mans, even Bobby Deerfield - exposed miles of celluloid delving into the psyches of the magic and inscrutable racers atop the ladder. But not one of those cinematic titans - John Frankenheimer, Steve McQueen, Sydney Pollack - more than scratched the surface.
West scrapes away the layers - page by tantalizing page. Of course, the leading players are fictitious as is the entourage of journalists, race team principals and stunning, tragic women; yet we feel we recognize them from other tales if not history, stirred with a stick. Their privileged existence is a maelstrom of bright but intensely brutal wordplay fueled by the ever-present specter of gruesome death - a stark reality in those days of racing past trees, stone houses and embankments.
Indeed, we recognize the racing and the venues - Brands Hatch, VW's Ehra- Lessien test track, Monza, the Targa Florio, Monaco for a Grand Prix interlude and mighty Spa-Francorchamps for the page-turning climactic scenes.
While enough intricate character development goes into this tale to entrap the average reader, the ultimate cook pot for the emotional turmoil is the racing which West describes in intricate, explosive detail and always from the observer's perspective. That's where the skills of a keen racing journalist lift this story above other books in the "dangerous sport" genre.
As are so many "sports" writers, West is a wordsmith - indeed, perhaps a wordsmith's wordsmith. Simile and metaphor cascade down the pages - sometimes in bunches, sometimes as isolated bon mots.
A meager sampling: "had a profile fit for a coin" - "laughter flashed and flared like a struck match" - "she discarded his name like a used toothpick" - "straightened his back in slow degrees like opening a rusty pocket knife" - [Paris] "frumpy little French sedans, sputtering motorscooters and corrugated-metal vans peeped and squawked at each other like random Gershwin" - "berets of snow capped the boulders" - "heat wavering cataract of black asphalt" - And that's just from a brief skim, not even to mid-point.
How much of Closing Speed is autobiographical is for West to know and us to guess. He did cover the 1970 World Championship of Makes for Road & Track. Is there a connection between West's publishing this tale some 40 years later and Nick Thorne's taking 20 years to revisit the events of April and May 1970? Again, that's for West to know and us to guess.
[To order Closing Speed check out ted-west.com/ClosingSpeed.html. Also available at Amazon.]