SCAM by Nine Vida


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Contrived, creaky, but sometimes charmingly offbeat suspense--with the narrative bouncing back and forth between two barely connected ""scams,"" both involving rare-book librarian Lorna Marcus. Lorna, the young second wife of L.A. lawyer Dan, is less than thrilled about her marriage these day's: Dan is remote, workaholic; there are stepmother tensions with his daughter Melissa, who lives with them. Still, Lorna's kept cheerfully busy herself, as curator for rare-book collector Jimmy Van Slocum, a rotund fanatic who lives with his aged mother in their Pico Blvd. manse. Then, however, both halves of Lorna's life start to fray. Dan's law-firm, which is corporately linked to an insurance company, is hit by scandal and suspicion: insurance-company president Berkson disappears during an Hawaii vacation, along with a comely confederate, and later turns up dead; the company turns out to be a total fake, with no real policies written; and Dan himself is suspected of complicity in the fraud and the murder--a situation which eventually forces him to flee to a hideout in the Panamint Mountains. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Lorna, her boss Jimmy (who has lost all his dwindling fortune in the insurance-company scam) is supporting his collection by stealing rare books from the dealers who trust him and doing some forgeries, keeping Lorna's suspicions at bay by sending her off on a wild-goose chase (authentication of a Swift manuscript) to Mexico. Eventually, then, Lorna will realize that Jimmy is a crook; more important, she helps Dan hide out and reawakens his love--until the real villains (with help from some ludicrous coincidences) are brought to justice after a mountaintop shootout. First-novelist Vote shows some engaging potential--in the doings of incorrigible playboy/thief Jimmy, in bits of character-background (e.g., Lorna's endearing lesbian mother). But the two separate strands of plot here never come together in a satisfying way; pointless digressions (like the Hong Kong sex adventures of one of the insurance-seam villains) further fracture the narrative; and the central characters are too bland (Dan especially) to hold this raggedly plotted whimsy together.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1984
Publisher: Macmillan