Two Wheels is the first in Greg Moody’s series of murder mysteries framed by the professional road bike racing world. Naturally, it is set in Europe, although the main characters are Americans. Jean-Pierre Colgan is the world’s best, and leader of the accomplished Haven team, sponsored by Haven Pharmaceuticals. He is a cocky and not entirely likeable character, which is a fine thing because he dies in the opening pages when his brand-new, high-tech American toaster explodes. In the first quirky turn, we then see Colgan enter heaven – or something like heaven – where he is greeted by Il Campionissimo, Fausto Coppi. Anquetil, on the other hand, won’t speak to him.
Next we meet the American Will Ross, a washed-up retired racer drinking himself stupid in Belgium, who inexplicably gets hired to replace Colgan on the Haven team. Will is as surprised as anyone, still more so when his ex-wife turns out to be part of the team’s management. With no love lost between them, her position only makes his hiring more confounding.
Cheryl is the team soigneur, also American and regretting the recent end of her own race career. She and Will get off to a rocky start, but she will turn out to be an ally. Tomas Delgado is team mechanic, and an old friend of Will’s: good news. The rest of the Haven squad is understandably unhappy to have Will join them, but he is just starting to get the hang of things again – find his legs, and his lost passion for the sport – when the body count begins to rise. Colgan’s death, of course, was no accident. Somebody seems to have it out for the Haven team, and Will finds himself attempting an awkward impromptu investigation, in the interest of saving his own skin. Oh yes, and there is French detective Godot, who reminds us of Columbo and seems to be imitating that American icon on purposes. There is a thread throughout the story of the tension between American and French culture: television, slang, American football versus professional cycling.
Two Wheels is not quite a cozy, as the murder weapon of choice is plastic explosives and the results are pretty bloody; but it fits into the sub-genre of mysteries defined by their framing elements. The plot of the mystery itself is enjoyable, if not especially remarkable unto itself. Will is a little slow on the uptake as investigator, and a big coincidence revealed late in the book falls a bit short of credible. As a mystery, then, Two Wheels is fine but not unique. The cycling motif is more distinctive, and adequately well done; the pain and love of the sport, the pavé of Paris-Roubaix and the climbs of La Ronde van Vlaanderen are convincing. Moody is at his best when he works with Will’s self-deprecating humor; for lyrical praise of the road I recommend Tim Krabbe’s The Rider instead; but the whole package is perfectly entertaining, often funny, and overall loveable. Obviously, Two Wheels will be most appreciated by those who share Moody’s and Will’s love for the sport. I think it could be the start of a promising series.