Claiming to have invented a groundbreaking clean automobile engine, Dietrich Otto contracts Ed Talbot’s startup company to test the invention in an around-the-world car rally from New York to Paris. (The rally includes un-timed days to transport the cars overseas.) When one of Ed’s business partners is murdered, Ed winds up driving the car — a 1967 Volkswagen bug nicknamed “Stewball” — with a beautiful stranger acting as navigator. Rumors begin to fly that Ed and the stranger, Marie-Claire Levieux, are romantically involved, which does nothing to help Ed’s deteriorating relationship with his wife, Karen.
Ed soon finds that he and Dietrich are not the only ones with a stake in Stewball’s performance. Ed and Marie-Claire are menaced by Chinese corporate hired guns, Russian police officers and enemies closer to home. And just as Ed begins acknowledging his feelings for Marie-Claire, he discovers that even she may not have his best interests in mind. When Ed’s young daughter is threatened, he is compelled to figure out just whom he can trust.
Inspired by the authors’ own racing experiences in a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, The Long Road to Paris is a successful, if somewhat generic adventure novel. Its story of a scientist caught up in derring-do is reminiscent of works from The 39 Steps to the novels of Michael Crichton. The Howles write smoothly and incorporate local color and scenic details, such as the atmosphere of the watering holes along the route, without slowing the plot. The novel’s pitfalls are typical of many in the genre: the characters are not terribly evocative — Karen, though unsympathetic, turns out to be the most interesting — and the story occasionally drags as characters alert Ed to various developments. Nevertheless, this is a competent thriller that should please fans of adventure and suspense alike.
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