ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 36 Email to Friend   Printable Version


The Bookworm Critique
By Richard Nisley
Published by 1stBooks.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this bookIt looks like the racing novel is well and truly back in fashion. Last year the grand total of books from this genre to find their way into this column was zero; this year we're up to four and still counting. I have had a few opportunities this year to write about my inherent suspicion of these kinds of books, so I won't repeat myself again. (If you're really keen, you can look back to the reviews of The Last Open Road, Montezuma's Ferrari, or Formula One For Murder). I have to say though that the quality of most of the fiction that has been reviewed this year is making me wonder whether my fears could perhaps be unfounded.

'The Ragged Edge' is the latest to come along, and by and large it's a very welcome arrival. No specific year is given, but the story seems to be set around the very late 1960s, and follows the rollercoaster season of Formula One Championship contender John Wagner. While it's enjoyable enough to follow, the tale of the veteran driver trying to clinch the elusive championship in the face of all kinds of adversity, both on and off the track, is not the most original idea ever put to paper. Nor is the sub-plot of romantic drama, where Wagner is forced to weigh up his desire for the championship against his feelings for Susan, his love interest.

The plot was not necessarily the most important part of the book though. For me, it was more about how the story as told, and it was here that Nisley is at his strongest. The book's hallmark is its attention to detail. That the author has done his homework is evident throughout the book, but is most apparent during the racing scenes where Nisley is describing the nature of the circuits. It's a long time since many of these tracks - Reims, Zandvoort, Jarama, to name a few - have seen much F1 action, and many of the other circuits existed under different configurations. At its best, Nisley's writing helps to create some impression of what it must have been like for those of us who weren't around back then.

In a cover letter that accompanied the review copy, Nisley emphasized that 'The Ragged Edge' was not intended to be "historical fiction"; and it's a fair point to make. Done carefully though, it's possible to add to a novel's sense of 'believability' by carefully placing it into a historical context, and Nisley has managed to weave the two together very efficiently. The story may not have been particularly original, but it was, for the most part, quite believable. This for me was a large part if its appeal.

The other highlight was the quality of the racing scenes. The author has obviously gone to a lot of trouble in creating and maintaining different styles and characteristics for each driver, and he has also remained consistent when recounting the dynamics between one driver and another. Again, it is this combination of attention to detail and obvious empathy with the sport that distinguishes this book from some of its contemporaries.

As I have said in the past though, fiction is perhaps more susceptible to questions of personal taste than any other genre of motorsport writing. Personally, I found 'The Ragged Edge' to be a really engaging read kept me happily entertained from beginning to end, and I'd advise anybody with any interest in racing to check it out. Ultimately though, it's for you to decide, and to help you along I've included a lengthier-than-normal excerpt.

"On the grid, crews topped off fuel tanks, retorqued wheels, checked tire pressure, and gave the bright finishes a last wipe down. Drivers climbed back into their cars, engines started, and crewmen hurried off to the side. The final seconds counted off, the flag waved, and the Spanish Grand Prix was underway.'

'Wagner watched Evans, Bogavanti, and Parks burn away, in front of him, and followed them over to the left setting up for Viraje Nuvolari. Loaded down with 43 gallons of gasoline, his car felt like some heavy bloated animal, wallowing this way and that through the slow, tight curves. He could feel his tires strain under the increased load every time he braked and turned, which was every second or two, the way the corners kept coming. On the short Pegaso straight, he had a brief moment to take stock. Parks' BRM was in front of him, running third, emitting puffs of blue smoke between gear shifts, and behind him was Edwards' Cooper-Maserati. Edwards seemed to be having a problem, because every time he braked smoke flared from his right-front wheel. In the split second Wagner looked back, he could detect nothing visibly wrong with the Cooper. Oh, well. It was Edwards' problem, not his.'

'The sharp Ascari right-hander rolled into view, demanding Wagner's full attention. Setting up, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the same telltale smoke flare off Edwards' right-front wheel. Exiting the turn, he hammered the throttle for the fast downhill run to the hairpin, felt the chassis lean side-to-side through the Bugatti Esses, and hunker down as he braked for the hairpin.'

'The next instant, he was slammed from behind, head flung back, stunned, uncomprehending, feeling his car lift, becoming very light, tilting lazily into a spin.'

'The thing's gonna flip, he thought, realizing what was happening, but no, the car was settling back on its springs just as it veered off circuit. He switched off the ignition and fuel pumps, released the steering wheel, and made his body as limp as possible. Dust and sand began swirling up around him, the car kicking and bouncing, rocks beating against the magnesium exterior. A tire ripped loose, banged against the side, and flew away. The car slid, dug into the sand and stopped. He heard steam hissing from somewhere and smelled something burning.'

'Fire! The mere idea of the car catching fire sounded an alarm in his nervous system.'

'He lurched forward trying to get out and to his horror discovered his legs were pinned. Something wet and stinging began running down his back. What the hell? He turned around to see a torn fuel line dumping raw gasoline into the seat. Frantically, he looked around for help. No one within 50 yards. Where were the bloody marshals? Damn it all. He had to get out of here. Now. This instant" (p. 60-61).

'The Ragged Edge' can be ordered as a paperback from the Atlas F1 bookstore, or in electronic form directly from the publishers at

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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