A grifter’s attempt to go legit gets sidetracked in a comic send-up of Las Vegas and the art world.
The second novel by Vorhaus starring expert con man Radar Hoverlander (The California Roll, 2010) opens with the hero striving to leave his old lifestyle behind. Thanks to a healthy bankroll, he and his girlfriend, Allie, are free to pursue ambitions in Santa Fe; meanwhile, his old sidekick Vic is going semi-legit, convincing the locals that his slapdash artworks bear the mark of genius, though he has little artistic skill. The sight of Radar’s father, Woody, in a dress quickly unsettles this happy existence: Radar’s dad is an expert grifter himself, but he’s fallen afoul of the operator of a big-name Las Vegas casino. To help make things right, Radar needs to produce a “whale” (high roller) who can keep the tables busy and help cover his dad’s debt. The ensuing story is pleasantly preposterous: Vic is conscripted for whale duty as his faux art career begins to legitimately take off; Woody’s loyalties constantly fall into question; Radar is pursued by a zaftig casino worker; and more. Double and triple crosses are abundant, and eventually it can be difficult to tease out exactly who has what on whom. But Vorhaus keeps the tone consistently light, even when the plot grows sodden, with his narrator cheerily flinging around lingo like “bafflegab,” “fluffing” and “Slurpee” (a fake seizure). The art-world subplot increasingly strains credulity: Vic’s ambition expands to Christo-like proportions, and he speedily acquires rock-star fandom and his own Burning Man–style fest. Yet the story stays anchored in the art of the grift. What Radar (and Vorhaus) understand is that every emotional attachment can be exploited for the sake of a scam, and some of the book’s best moments are interior, with the narrator examining his responses to determine how he may or may not be scammed. He plays a kind of chess game with himself, which explains why the plot gets so convoluted, and also why the narrator is so easily sucked into it.
A lighthearted caper with a few welcome flickers of psychological insight.