The Prince and the Pauper gets turned on its head in this rags-to-riches thriller.
Rodda’s debut novel opens in the midst of a furious battle during the Cambodian incursion of 1973. Mason Dillon awakes in “a mass of death,” his right leg shattered, his entire unit killed except for two men: himself and his best friend, Adrian Wylde, who saves his life. War over, the two men move deeper into Cambodia, and Mason decides he wants to stay there for good. He’s found a young wife and feels anxious to avoid his old life’s entanglements. But Adrian longs for home, and so Mason proposes a deal. Since he and Adrian “looked alike, they even acted alike, and nearly everyone, even their closest friends, could rarely tell them apart,” Mason suggests they swap identities. This means that Adrian, leaving his shabby Chicago past behind, will take possession of Mason’s substantial inheritance. At first, it’s a dream come true. Adrian meets Mason’s long-lost father, owner of a multimillion-dollar transport company, and is swept into a moneyed life in the Hamptons of the sort he’d never dreamed possible. He becomes “a man-about-town who knew his way around, a blooming sophisticate, carefully groomed for that role.” But there are worms in the apple. His stepmother seduces him aggressively, then threatens him. His new father seems to be in business with some shady characters, including smugglers; medical travails destroy Adrian’s mental health; and just when it seems things can’t get any worse, he finds himself framed for a body of crimes he didn’t commit. “I’m telling you,” rants an FBI agent about Adrian, aka Mason Dillon, “he’s a drug smuggler, an embezzler, and he’s a goddamned murderer!” Rodda’s thriller is just that—thrilling, a fast and fun read that almost casually grapples with some of the most profound metaphysical questions: are we the people we pretend to be? What sits at the center of the self? What obligation do we owe to our own prior lives? And what duty do we owe to our friends? The author injects opulence (Adrian “had his own apartment, a chauffeured limo whenever he wanted it, an unlimited expense account, and lots of personal money to spend on his every whim”), a desire for revenge, a sympathetic woman, the CIA, and a mysterious psychologist into the narrative. With echoes of both Patricia Highsmith and Randy Wayne White, Rodda has distinguished himself with a sterling debut. With luck, readers can expect more books to come.
A thoughtful tale of mistaken identity, fraud, sex, murder, and transcendent friendship.