Nick Vance is a washed up former world class runner. He was a favorite to win Gold in the 1500m in the 1980 Moscow Olympics before the boycott, then his wife committed suicide and twenty years later he ended up writing for a running magazine and drinking too much. That is, until he is sent to write a piece on a high school kid nicknamed “Bullet”. Bullet is a phenom. He excels at both the 100 meters and the 1600 meters, which is a rare double and he can move up to the 3200 meters with equal success. He has all the talent in the world, but a chip on his shoulder and he isn’t putting in the work to become truly world class. Nick assignment turns into an opportunity for both as Nick begins to coach Bullet for the Olympics in just a few months. By the end of his senior track season, Bullet has already set a World Record in the 100 meters and still wants to double in the 1500….until he tests positive for an illegal substance and everything starts crashing down. Bullet is clean, though. Nick and Bullet try to clear his name and his eligibility before the Olympics.
If this was the entire story I would have been sold. I am very interested in running and combining elite running with a thriller with twists and surprises is a great idea. It’s even plausible so far. There is a conspiracy going on here and the possibility of high technology and I buy it. But this is only two thirds of the overall story. The other third, which gradually comes together with the main story of Nick and Bullet, is that of a mysterious young woman named Cassandra. Cassandra has ESP. She can read people’s minds and get glimpses of the future and her future is intertwined with Bullet’s. This isn’t a spoiler of any sort because if Cassandra had nothing to do with Bullet we would have a very unfocused novel. In what way she is intertwined with Bullet, I’ll leave that to the reader’s imagination.
I am more than willing to accept technologies and techniques that are far more advanced than what the average person knows about. I’ll accept secret government conspiracies and double dealings. The Champion Maker is a thriller; it is part of the genre and is what the thriller deals with. So, the core of the novel is grounded in reality, though Bullet’s World Record against high school competition raises the eyebrows in the runner in me. There may be new technology and technology that pushes the boundaries of what we know, but it’s grounded in reality. Into this world grounded in reality is a girl with ESP and can see the future. My Implausibility Detector goes off at this point. I read science fiction and fantasy, so I am more than comfortable with any sort of extra sensory talents or abilities. But it has to fit the world the author creates. Kevin Joseph has written a world that is our world. So, he grounds his characters and technologies and threats in what is real and what is possible. While ESP may or may not be real and may or may not be possible, it jumps out as being entirely unnatural to the world the rest of the characters inhabit. It is a distraction and knocks the book down a peg or two.
Once I turned off my Implausibility Detector, I found The Champion Maker to be a fairly enjoyable, fast paced book. It’s nothing that I would rush out and tell everyone I meet that they have to read this book, but it was decent and it wasn’t a waste of my time. The novel is not anything remarkable, but it was a quick read that offered some excitement, action, and running. If Kevin Joseph had left the whole ESP thing out of the book, I’d have been happier. There is an explanation in the novel of why and how, but it doesn’t fit the tone and style of the rest of the book. It seemed to offer the author an easy way out of situations. Deus Ex Machina? Deus Ex ESP.