ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 26 Email to Friend   Printable Version


The Bookworm Critique
By Burt 'BS' Levy.
Published by Think Fast Ink.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this bookExperience has taught me that the longer a person lives without a wristwatch, the less they actually need one. After spending a few years watch-free, you begin to develop a sort of sixth sense that allows you to guess the time with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Either that, or you become highly adept at knowing how to find a clock at a moment's notice. Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought that frequent users of public transport were similarly intuitive when it came to knowing when they had almost arrived at their destination. It's bizarre - you can be sitting there on a train with a magazine, and without even looking out of the window you just somehow know that your stop is approaching.

For months I rode the rails of Melbourne's public transport system deeply engrossed in whatever I was reading at the time, comfortable in the knowledge that I could rely on instinct to let me know when I was close to where I wanted to be. Then I started reading 'MONTEZUMA'S FERRARI'. Result: I got so caught up in the story that I shot straight past my stop without realizing and had to walk almost two kilometers home. At about quarter to midnight. In the middle of winter. In a thunderstorm. Great.

While this does not say much for my intuitive powers, it does say something about this book. 'Montezuma's Ferrari' is the sequel to 'The Last Open Road', which was reviewed in Atlas F1 a few weeks ago, and it picks up right where the first book left off. It's not completely necessary to have read 'The Last Open Road' before embarking upon the newest installment, because the opening pages of the book contain enough background information to bring the new initiate up to speed. Having said that, I think that you'll get more out of 'Montezuma's Ferrari' if you do read the first book, because you will have developed a greater empathy for the characters and events in this release.

'Montezuma's Ferrari' sees Buddy Palumbo, the story's narrator, having largely taken over the day-to-day running of the auto workshop in which he started his mechanical career. Yep, Buddy is growing up and becoming an adult. Along with the responsibility of keeping the workshop going, he has to deal with planning his fast-approaching wedding to Julie Finzio, and all the associated family-related complications. None of this leaves a lot of time for racing, but various circumstances (starting with Big Ed - Palumbo's friend, best customer, and amateur racer with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of money, and almost no talent - inviting Palumbo to accompany him to the Carrara Panamericana, a two thousand mile road race in Mexico) contrive to ensure that a pleasant amount of the book's action takes place at a race track.

One of the strong points of the first book was its historical integrity, and this quality has been carried across to 'Montezuma's Ferrari'. The author's attention to detail regarding both the cars and the circuits is nothing short of fantastic. Such care is one of the ways in which Levy's love of 1950s racing is evident in the novel, and it is this obvious passion for the subject that sets his books apart from so much other racing fiction. I also liked the brief cameos by racing identities that popped up from time to time, because they helped to add to the sense of believability that is the hallmark of this series.

It might be a big call, but I think that 'Montezuma's Ferrari' is probably superior to its predecessor, and the biggest leap between the two is in the quality of the writing. To be honest, there was not all that much wrong with the way Levy wrote to begin with, but his efforts in 'Montezuma's Ferrari' suggest a greater air of confidence and sensitivity, which may perhaps be due in part to the success of the first book. The quality of the dialogue is particularly brilliant. So is the humour - the first book was funny, but certain moments in this one really had me laughing out loud, which is great but for the fact that I was usually reading the book in a public place, thus making me the target for weird looks by everyone around me.

In the review of 'The Last Open Road', I referred briefly to the story behind Levy's efforts to get his book up and running. Curiously, it seems that Levy's dream deal with a major publisher fell a little flat, with the result that the author managed to sell more copies of the first book than the publishing house did. This time, Levy has elected to avoid similar disappointments simply by publishing the book himself. Self-publishing is an expensive and risky exercise, but Levy has come up with a rather cool way of paying for it - sponsorship.

About a third of the way through Montezuma's Ferrari, the reader suddenly encounters a little magazine called 'Autoweak' that has been inserted into the binding. The magazine consists almost entirely of ads (but then again, most magazines do), interspersed with pictures of the cars that feature in the book. This may sound highly intrusive, and some purists may consider the inclusion of advertising in a novel almost sacrilegious, but in fact it is neither. Actually, the care with which it had been put together, coupled with the fact that most sponsors used period-style advertisements, served to contribute to the overall atmosphere of the book.

This is apparently the first novel ever to employ such an approach to pay for itself, and while I'm not sure that it will ever become widely used, I think that it proved to be a great idea in this case. Apparently I'm not the only one to think so either, for the book recently received a Benjamin Franklin Award (a sort of American literary version of an Academy Award). My only regret is that the 'scoop photo' of the Humber Super Snipe GT on the front cover wasn't a little clearer - now that's a car I'd like to see!

For the benefit of those who haven't read 'The Last Open Road', I've included an excerpt from the new book to give you some idea of the flavour of Levy's writing. This passage sees the cars lined up on the grid for the start of the 12-hour race at Sebring:

"...the race cars sat there, glistening in the sun, while the crowd pressed in against the fences and their drivers stood in their stupid little painted circles, fidgeting with their chinstraps or tugging at the wrists of their driving gloves or checking the hands on wristwatches that never seemed to move. There were only a handful of moments to go, and I swear the closer we got to straight up noon, the quieter everything got. In fact, if you listened past the rush of the air up your nostrils, you could hear your own heartbeat...

'Thirty seconds,' Captain Eyston said into his microphone, and you could almost see the sparkplug banners flutter from the mass intake of breath.


At the far end of pit lane, I herd a socket wrench fall and roll across the concrete. From the sound, I'd guess it was a 14mm or a 9/16ths deepwell.


Somewhere between 'four' and 'three' I noticed the first tiny flinch of movement, but before you could really catch who it was, the stampede was on. It looked a little strange, really, these guys in goggles, gloves, and helmets scampering hell-for-leather across an airport runway and jumping into their race cars. But that all changed when the patter of little feet became the grind of starter motors and then this avalanche of sound as one engine fired and then another and then absolute bedlam as the whole field exploded away in a shock wave of rubber smoke and Castrol fumes." (p.243).

'The Last Open Road' saw Levy really raise the bar as far as motorsport fiction goes, and 'Montezuma's Ferrari' sees the standard climb a couple of notches further. If you read any novels at all then this book is really a necessity, simply because motorsport fiction doesn't get any better than this. The writing, setting, and plot are all brilliant. Plus, at just under four hundred pages of text, you're getting plenty of hours of reading for your money. If you can, try to buy both books in the series, because you really will enjoy 'Montezuma's Ferrari' more if you have read 'The Last Open Road' first. If not, then 'Montezuma's Ferrari' is still a very worthy acquisition, and one that I think will appeal to anybody who harbours any interest in racing at all.

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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