Circus before Dawn

I recently ran into David Miller, a longtime GGLC member and the newly published author of Circus before Dawn, a novel set in a fictional version of the 1999 Formula 1 season about an start-up F1 team based in the Bay Area. As soon as he told me the basic premise of the novel I knew I had to read it and now here is dust jacket description followed by my own review.

Shortly before the dawn of the new millennium, a video arrives at the postbox of internationally acclaimed motorsport journalist, Trevor Banks. The startling images depict the elite driving talents of an intriguing racecar driver.

Banks is assigned to investigate the story. As he does so, he discovers that the talented performer also has attracted the attention of a psychopathic saboteur. From Northern California’s legendary racetracks to multiple European venues, including the dazzling jewel that is the Monaco Grand Prix, the story takes the reader on a wild, unpredictable ride within the dangerous circus that is Formula One racing.

With an engaging style and a journalist’s sharp eye for detail, David Miller has crafted a compelling drama that hurtles toward its shocking climax with the purposefulness and hair-raising excitement of a Formula One racecar as it rockets toward the chequered flag.

As the cover says, Circus before Dawn is basically a thriller set in the world of F1. The entire book is told as a first person narrative from an F1 journalist who is suddenly thrust into added intrigue beyond the regular machinations of standard F1. My basic thoughts are as follows:

  • A good description of the F1 circuit for the casual reader along with many little details that an F1 fan will really like. Rather than glossing over the racing, the author actually explains many of the details about F1 (eg 107% rule, sponsorship, superlicense, etc…). The only slight fakery is the margins of some of the laptimes but that is something I can easily understand had to be enlarged for the regular audience
  • Excellent references to F1 history at various points in the book. They really show the authors involvement with F1 and actually got me to refer to wikipedia a few times while reading the book
  • Extra points for using Lotus as the premier marque during the book as well as talking about Laguna Seca and Infineon in great detail. Unlike most thriller I could actually visualize many of the action scenes in the book which made it more fun than the average thriller.
  • One issue with the explanations is that some of them do go a bit longer than needed and IMHO the book could have been trimmed by a good 50 pages
  • One of the things I loved about the book was that I actually personally know several people that are in the acknowledgements which was pretty cool. The author also gets extra points for mentioning the GGLC in the climactic scenes of the book.
  • I also really liked the idea of the F1 season ending with an F1 race through the streets of SF – too bad Bernie will never let that happen

All in all I have to say that it is a good book especially for the F1 fan and an excellent effort for the authors first book. I suggest you pick up a copy yourself while I look forward to reading the sequel and/or seeing the movie.

Spoilers: The following bits are spoilers which you should not read unless you have actually read the book. The author has done a great job moving very close to real events in F1 and these are just some of the things that came to my mind while reading the book:

  • The superlicence idea while a good idea is something that would never work in real life – exhibit A being Sebastien Loeb being denied a superlicense while being the 5 time defending World Rally Champion
  • The Grim Reaper campaigns reminded me of scenes from Mad Men where Draper talks about doing tobacco advertising about everyone dying
  • imagining Joe Saward, James Allen and all the other F1 journos as the protagonist 🙂
  • The Austrian flag bit from Imola 94 really hit a bit close to home especially since I had seen the Senna doc just a couple of weeks before
  • The orange track and Aurora loop were the only parts of the book where I felt the author went a little too crazy even for F1
  • The Bernie/Mosely show as an equivalent to the Xenon character in the book – its sad how those two managed to suck that much power under their control
  • Having spent the last weekend at the Indycar race and witnessed Danica mania first hand I do hope that the first woman in F1 be an actual talent like Michèle Mouton rather than a talentless publicity whore

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