A journalist specializing in auto design, Champa debuts with a novel about a classic car and the symbolism it holds for a range of characters.
Thirty-something Beth Corvid was originally hired to be the archivist of a photography collection owned by Emerson Tang, a half-Chinese/half-WASP multimillionaire. Only a few years older than Beth, Emerson is now dying of a never named incurable disease, and while there is no romance between them, there is love and devotion, so Emerson has put her in charge of his health care and his life in general. When the aging French artist Hélène Moreau, famous for her futurist “Speed” paintings created by race car tires during the 1950s, approaches Emerson to buy his 1954 Beacon, Beth is surprised to find out he has purchased the car without her knowledge. Hélène wants the car, or specifically its engine, to jump-start her creativity, which has dissipated. Hélène befriends Beth, but Beth doesn’t trust her motives or her sincerity. When it becomes clear that the chassis to Emerson’s Beacon is missing its original engine, Emerson suspects Hélene. He sends Beth to search for clues to its whereabouts in Germany, where the Beacon line is about to be relaunched. There, she meets Hélène’s former lover with whom she once raced in the Beacon. She also meets Miguel Beacon, whose grandfather founded the original Beacon manufacturing company. Miguel agrees to help her find the engine. Soon, the four characters' lives are intersecting if not intertwining as the search for the engine moves to California. Meanwhile, Emerson’s health is breaking down rapidly, and Beth, whose own near-death experience as a small child has left her afraid to commit fully to life, is finding herself increasingly attracted to Miguel. By the ending, in which a host of coincidences explain the convoluted plot, each of the characters has realized what the car represents in his/her life.
Only race car aficionados may be willing to wade through the philosophic pretensions and flat prose.