Friday, April 3, 2015

A political thriller

Jess Walter's 2005 novel Citizen Vince won an Edgar Award for best crime novel of the year. I don't know of any award for best political novel of the year, but if there were, Citizen Vince might have won that, too.

Vince Camden's real name is Marty Hagan. He's an ex-con who was convicted of his first felony in his teens and has never been eligible to vote in his life. Yet he's now living in Spokane under a new identity in the witness protection program, and with the new identity, his felonies are erased and a card arrives in the mail making him a registered voter. Never mind that Marty, now, Vince, continues to work the old credit card scam he did back in New York. He just hasn't been caught yet.

But Vince learns Ray Sticks, a notorious mob hit man, is looking for him. Assuming the New York mob has found him and is trying to settle old scores, Vince returns to New York to try to buy his life back. The mobster takes his money but tells Vince the actual price is to kill Ray Sticks, who also turns out to be in the witness protection program.

All this takes place in late October and early November in 1980, when Ronald Reagan is challenging Jimmy Carter for the presidency. Vince may be battling for his life, but he's also, for the first time in his life, fascinated by the upcoming election. In a key scene, with Vince and Beth, his prostitute girlfriend, in grave danger, he manages to talk Sticks him into letting him vote.

The novel has a bit of the grit and the unpredictability of an Elmore Leonard story, yet Citizen Vince also reads like a literary novel. Jess Walter could have won an award for that, as well.

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