Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Not European Crime this time, but a first rate American crime novel.

I have read Citizen Vince by Jess Walter, a book which had fantastic reviews winning the 2006 Edgar.

Winning the Edgar in a quiet year is an achievement, but the other nominated novels in 2006 were by Michael Connelly, Thomas H Cook, Tess Gerritsen and George Pelecanos, a real group of heavyweights.

I set out frankly expecting to be disappointed as I thought it would be just another stock US crime story, and perhaps a bit downmarket from european crime fiction. I was very pleasantly surprised by the clever plot, and excellent pacing of the story.

In fact I thought it was a far tauter book than either of the last two Edgar winners that I have read.[2005California Girl, T Jefferson Parker; 2004 Resurrection Men, Ian Rankin].

Citizen Vince begins a few days before the 1980 Carter-Reagan Presidential election.
Marty Hagen is in the Federal Witness Protection Program really by default as he was only small fry and not connected to the mob, except by a large debt.
In his new persona as Vince Camden, a baker in Spokane, Washington State, he remains a petty criminal and runs a clever credit card scam.
But Vince dreams of a better life, and of taking that first step as a citizen by voting in the upcoming election.
Unfortunately Vince's lowlife associates want a bigger cut of the proceeds of his criminal enterprise, and bring in a contract killer to persuade him. When Ray, the killer, eliminates one of the associates, Vince has to go on the run returning to New York to straighten out his situation with the mob.
The Spokane Police send rookie detective Alan Dupree to look for Vince in New York, and the young cop he learns some harsh lessons about life and policing in the Big Apple.

Will Vince survive long enough to vote?
Will he and girlfriend, Beth, a prostitute who is studying for her real estate license, find a new life together?
Who will find Vince first the cops, or the killer?

The book races along with almost as many interesting characters as a Dickens novel. But it lives or dies with the character of Vince, the surprisingly thoughtful crook who reads Solzhenitsyn, and wants to vote for the first time . Frankly you can't help but like Vince, who seems more a victim of circumstance than a real villain.

But as Vince struggles with his problems always in the background is the election, and the hard gritty world of the USA during Jimmy Carter's presidency. The election and the posturing politicians become characters in the novel, and this adds to the sense of place that I feel is essential in a crime novel. I did spend some time in the USA in both 1979 and 1980, and can still remember the feeling of quiet desperation in the air.

General Douglas Macarthur said , "old soldiers never die they just fade away", but old politicians never fade away. They become experts on how to deal with the very problems they singularly failed to cope with when they were in office.

I found this book to be an excellent read and a deep, thought provoking example of good crime fiction. Life can be full of "sighs, regrets and ironies" and we can all make a "string of bad decisions", as have most of the characters in this story.
The climax of the book keeps you on the edge of your seat as the tension mounts, and mounts so I won't spoil it for you.
By the way some of the dialogue might not be that used by your maiden aunt, but mobsters, and cops, have a limited vocabulary, and I am sure it is accurate.

"People say it's because of the harsh winters in Spokane, which are a cross between upstate New York and Pluto."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yikes, I had better read it! I read his first two -- Over Tumbled Graves was truly great, the follow-up (forget title) was good but not great. For some reason this did not appeal from the various blurbs I've read, but now I've read your post ----
Stop reviewing books, Norm! I can't keep up!

1:36 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

It's OK Maxine, I am probably going to slow down my reading and posting due to the cricket.

7:38 AM  

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