Newspaper article International New York Times

Spy Games on and off the Track

Newspaper article International New York Times

Spy Games on and off the Track

Article excerpt

"Crash," by Toby Vintcent, is a thriller set in the world of Formula One and Moscow's corridors of power.

Crash. By Toby Vintcent. 439 pages. Arcadia Books. Pounds 8.99.

Writing fiction set in Formula One is a challenge, and few writers have succeeded at it. First, the series has a way of generating scenarios that are so fantastic that they would not be believed in fiction -- such as the industrial espionage story of 2007, when the McLaren team was fined $100 million by the series for obtaining technical secrets of the Ferrari team. Second, the paddock is ultimately such a small world, with 11 well-known teams and their characters, that it is difficult to fictionalize. Novelists find it hard to avoid writing about real teams, people and situations.

Toby Vintcent, however, has succeeded like no one before him. With "Crash," he has created a story even more outrageous than anything Formula One has yet devised, while barely focusing on life in the paddock.

"Crash" is the second in a series. The first book, "Driven," was rejected by dozens of agents and publishers before getting published in 2014 by a small imprint owned by Vintcent's agent. The first book was so well received among Formula One professionals and fans that Arcadia Books, an independent British publisher, signed Vintcent to a two-book deal. "Crash" is the first of those books.

Vintcent decided to follow in the footsteps of Dick Francis, the late writer of popular thrillers set in the world of horse racing, but with Formula One as the backdrop. But Vintcent's new novel becomes most absorbing once it leaves the racing world and becomes more a Cold War technological thriller. (Though Vintcent does not put a foot wrong in his portrayal of Formula One.)

With the end of the Cold War two decades ago, a genre of popular fiction also faded, a genre exemplified by John le Carre, Frederick Forsyth and Martin Cruz Smith. But Vintcent, a former officer in the British Army, returns to the genre, using as a basis the mysterious deaths in recent years of Russian opposition figures -- notably Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei Magnitsky and Anna Politkovskaya. …

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