Monday, June 05, 2006

Three of my favorite books of 2005 are just out in paperback:

To everyone's surprise, Citizen Vince won the Edgar Award as Best Mystery. Here's what I wrote when it first came out:
I can see the headlines now: "Local Doughnut Man's Life Changed by Voting." The fact that the man in question is Vince Camden, a 36-year-old credit-card scammer, expert poker player, small-time drug dealer and maker of excellent maple bars, and that his voting choice is between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980, gives Jess Walter's combination of immensely entertaining crime thriller and wry social commentary a decidedly different series of twists.
Camden--not the name he was born with in New York City--now lives as a protected government witness in Spokane, Wash., which Walter (who lives there) describes with a mixture of love and contempt. A smart and touching hooker named Beth, studying for her real estate license, shares Camden's affections with Kelly, a sleek blond who wants him to work for the election of her lawyer boss, a rising Republican. In the three years since he accepted a federal offer and blew the whistle on some made guys in New York, Camden has put aside lots of cash by selling pot and stolen credit cards. And then there's the doughnut job, which gives him more pleasure than he could have imagined going in.
Still, Camden feels something missing in his life--a purpose. As Carter and Reagan prepare to debate the country's future, Camden begins to see the election as a symbol of his becoming a part of society. His vote takes on a mythic quality and heroic dimensions.
To the question, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" that Reagan asked during the 1980 campaign, Vince finally comes up with an answer that works for him:
"I think a guy could move across country, change his name, job, his friends--change everything. . . . And not really change at all."