Fast Cars and Espionage Meet
Our motoring man can’t put Toby Vintcent’s second novel down – from the race track to the shady world of realpolitik it’s a riveting read
Review by Marc Stickley
Crash is Toby Vintcent’s second thriller novel featuring the backdrop of Formula 1 (set with fictional teams and characters) and this time the glamorous world of cars, speed, dirty tricks and celebrity status takes a back seat to the thriller that unfolds pretty quickly as you read on through the book.
The main characters are Remy Sabatino, female lead and driver for the Ptarmigan race team; Matt Straker, former Colonel in the Royal Marines and a specialist consultant for Dominic Quartano – defence magnate with involvement in the Ptarmigan team – and Sandy McMahon, corporate lawyer for Quartano and working for Ptarmigan to help them with the sticky problem they find themselves in.
If you’re looking for in depth technical detail of F1, or background and history of the characters, then Crash doesn’t give this. The world of F1 is there surrounding the plot, with the events taking centre stage – intrigue, espionage, treachery, politics and more. Set in Moscow, with a race-based tragedy in the opening paragraphs, the suspense builds fast and takes some twists and turns before intensifying towards the end.
Having featured heavily in the opening section, Miss Sabatino spends a good half of the book fighting to get back into the story. Colonel Straker and Sandy McMahon run the show, attempting to clear Remy and the imprisoned team boss, Tahm Nazar from a corporate manslaughter charge following the title’s accident. As they get deeper into the mystery, the plot literally thickens, with politics from the Cold-War blended with sinister oligarchic treachery that you could imagine is rife in modern Russia. There are familiar figures, with unfamiliar names, but throughout the book I wanted to get to the end and find out how the heroes would fare. Interestingly (and prophetically) Crash explores how the public’s opinion can be swayed if you put the right (or wrong) messages out through the media – in the book there are echoes of the furore surrounding the European Referendum and the fallout once the vote was counted, but clearly Toby Vintcent couldn’t have know how that would have gone…
After speaking with Toby, Crash’s author, it’s clear that all of this is the pitch he was after. The world of F1 was to be the setting, but the thriller that develops from the moment the red lights go out, until the chequered flag of closing chapter was to be the main performance. Toby tells me that his first novel in the series, Driven contains more of the technical insight that he picked up from his research (Toby’s a keen follower of F1, who lives in the heartland of the F1 Team’s HQs – so picks up and develops plot gems on the school run and chatting in the pub with the other locals), whereas Crash is all about the characters and the event – he didn’t want to scare readers off, by going all techno-geek. That said, the characters are not revealed completely – leaving plenty of scope for future writing.
Given Toby’s past as an Army Officer (he served in the 16th/5th Lancers), I was keen to know why Colonel Straker was a former Royal Marine and not the more popularly novelised Special Forces hero with an Army background. He chuckled at this and admitted to receiving some stick from his former Army colleagues. His logic was that Straker needed to be flexible and able to work alone, as well as possessing the leadership qualities to get the job done with the help of those around him. Being a Royal Marine allowed the character to be more adaptable to Toby.
Stick from his old chums is not all Toby has received though – the plaudits for Driven report it to be received as a genuinely good representation of F1 (some even wonder if he had a mole inside the often secretive and closed world) and Toby was pleased to garner Murray Walker’s praise. Unsure of his chosen F1 format, he respected Murray’s opinion and thought if he sent him a copy cold and if he felt it was realistic, then he would stand a better chance with the publishers – it wasn’t easy for Toby to get to where we are today. After leaving the Army, he followed the well trodden route to Investment Banking, before matching his love of the equine world with his career as Director of International Affairs at the British Equestrian Federation. But Toby had writing in mind – he had penned a work while still in the Army and found it hard to get published. He found himself stuck in a Catch-22 situation, where characters like his within the ex-military thriller genre were already being published, but therefore it was hard to break in without a USP. He then changed tack – how could a fresh twist be added to a thriller? With a new setting – the F1 thriller idea stemmed from his personal interest in the sport and the proximity of the sport’s technology centres to his home. But then the new idea was hard to sell to the publishers… Driven was eventually published through Amazon, gaining a nomination for the Cross British Sports Book awards in 2015 – the only fiction work of the 60 nominated titles – and then, with persuasion from his agent, a publisher picked up the concept and agreed to a book deal. Crash is the first fruit of that arrangement, released Friday July 2nd, but Toby is already working on the next in the series after Driven and Crash and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for that, as well as getting a copy of the first book to see how it all started.
In summary, if you want a thriller in a different setting, that will keep you reading to the end, then Crash should fit the bill. Overtones of Dick Francis (thrillers set around horse racing) and the merest hint of cold-war espionage akin to Forsyth and Le Carré should put Crash into some context and I reckon Toby Vintcent is one to watch as he develops the characters through new adventures.
Available July 1st. At Waterstones or on Amazon.