There is something comforting about getting into the passenger seat of a hot rod driven by Calvin McGraw. You can hear the sound of the pistons; the car shakes and rattles; and the tires rumble over the roadway as cornfields whip on by. It’s like baseball and apple pie made into a book.
Eric Beetner’s latest novel, Leadfoot (280 Steps), is a prequel to his wonderful book of this summer, Rumrunners. Set in 1971, Calvin is a much younger man than the one we met in Rumrunners. While Calvin is torn between making runs for the Stanley family or making an honest living teaching stock car racers how to drive, he is showing his son, Webb, the ropes of the McGraw legacy and what it means to be an outlaw..
Like Rumrunners, Beetner masterfully takes us for a ride with Calvin as he tries to outrun the competition from Nebraska, the Cantrells. Beetner also makes us the passenger for the 19-year-old Webb’s first run, picking up a package in St. Louis – a package that happens to be a young woman that the boss Hugh Stanely wants back.
Calvin watched his son pull out of the driveway. He hadn’t told him of his own assignment. The boy didn’t need anything clouding his head on his first solo run. As Calvin watched the Mercury fade away he thought of all the things he didn’t tell his boy, like don’t fuck the girl. Women in the shotgun seat always came with a side of trouble. He also should have given him a lesson in how to talk— or not to say a goddamn word— to the men he was picking up the package from. Show up, drive the car, get the cargo and go. But shit, this was all stuff Calvin had been educating the boy in since the day he took to two wheels on a bicycle in the park.
Calvin watched with pride. His boy was a man today. He was a McGraw.
Beetner’s Leadfoot is filled with the darkness of dangerous drives that evoke the thrill of the road, much like Bruce Springsteen’s earlier music. Past the stylings and engines of American muscle cars, Beetner’s Leadfoot exposes a world of outlaw freedom and outlaw justice.