Monday, April 25, 2011

REVIEW: The California Roll by John Vorhaus


Meet Radar Hoverlander, a witty, gifted con artist with the mind of David Mamet, the voice of Tom Robbins, and the morals of a sailor on shore leave.
What do the Merlin Game, the Penny Skim, the Doolally Snadoodle, and the Afterparty Snuke have in common? They’re all the work of world-class con artist and master bafflegabber Radar Hoverlander. Radar’s been “on the snuke” since childhood, but he’s still looking for his California Roll, the one big scam that’ll set him up in sushi for life.

Trouble arrives in the stunning, sassy package of Allie Quinn—either the last true innocent or a con artist so slick she makes Radar look like a Quaker. Radar’s hapless sidekick, Vic Mirplo, a lovable loser who couldn’t con a kid out of a candy cane, thinks Radar’s being played. But if love is blind, it’s also deaf, dumb and stupid, and before Radar knows it, he’s sucked into a vortex of double-, triple-, quadruple-crosses that’ll either net him his precious California Roll or put him in a hole in the ground. 

As timeless as a perpetual-motion machine, as timely as a Madoff arraignment,
The California Roll brings you deep inside the world of con artistry, where every fact is fiction and the second liar never has a chance.
  • Pub. Date: March 2010
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Format: Hardcover , 264pp

About the Author
from his website

John Vorhaus is best known as the author of The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You’re Not.  This seminal book on writing comedy for television and film is now available in four languages, and continues to be a definitive source of information and inspiration for writers from Santa Monica to Scandinavia.

An international consultant in television and film script development, Vorhaus has worked for television networks, film schools, and production companies in 30 countries on four continents, including half-year stints in Romania and, God help him, Russia in winter. He has traveled regularly to Nicaragua, where he helped build a social-action drama designed to teach the young people of Nicaragua to “think for themselves and practice safe sex.”

Vorhaus’ own screenwriting credits include Married… with Children, Head of the Class, The Sentinel, The Flash and many overseas television shows and films, including the sitcoms House Arrest and Pretty, Sick and Twisted, and the movie Save Angel Hope.

In another corner of his ADD multiverse, he is the author of the six-volume Killer Poker series, plus miscellaneous other books on the subject, including the novel Under the Gun, a “how-to whodunit” set in the world of high stakes tournament poker. His other novels include The California Roll and its upcoming sequel, The Albuquerque Turkey.

Vorhaus is a graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University and a member of the Writers Guild of America.  He has taught writing at Northwestern University and the American Film Institute, and lectured for such disparate groups as Mensa and the New Jersey Romance Writers Association. His favorite sport is ultimate, his favorite game is poker, and his favorite color is plaid. He lives in Southern California in the company of his wife and an endless rota of dogs.

Here's a video trailer for the newly released The Albuquerque Turkey...

My Thoughts
The first person I ever scammed was my grandmother, who had Alzheimer's disease and could never remember from one minute to the next whether she'd just given me ice cream or not.
Radar Hoverlander is a grifter- a con artist -and like every grifter, he's seeking his California Roll. Which means to say that he is seeking his one big take that will set him up with sushi for life, and allow him to ride off into the sunset to live a charmed life of hot sands and cold beers. Then he meets up with fellow grifter Allie, and he has to begin to wonder whether he just bit off more than he can chew.

This was a fun and “smart” story. Full of clever dialogue, a twisting plotline, and more new-to-me vocabulary words than I can even mention in this review, I found it to be fresh and engaging.

There’s something likable about Radar Hoverlander. You almost get the feeling that he’s “honorable”, despite him being a con artist. Is there such a thing as an honorable con artist?
So I work hard to keep up my pointillist perspective-- make every day indeed Sunday in the park with George if I can-- and I always try to give my victims the metaphorical reacharound, so they can feel like crossing paths with me wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to them in life. (p. 3)

According to me, I’m moral. (p. 3)
Radar finds himself surrounded by his ragtag team of fellow grifters. And grifters always seem to be trying to wind up as the man on top, always trying to outdo one another. And, really, how does a player trust a player not to play them?
But who can a confidence man confide in? (p. 133)
Allie had me as stumped as she did Radar, wondering what her game was. You want to believe that she is real, but can you really trust her to be on the up and up?
...I met Allie Quinn and saw in her a reflection of myself, the sort of flirty, tarty, smarty grifter that only a grifter could love. (p. 145)

Peripatetic- Walking about or from place to place; traveling on foot.
Usage: I suggest that the Doolally is a little more peripatetic-- at that age I was all about the SAT words-- wandery, yeah, than they can handle, but this other dog is a real homebody and won’t go nomad like the Doolally. (p. 2-3)

Arrogate- To take or claim for oneself without right
Usage: I was thinking I might even arrogate the structure of the yak for myself, maybe dress it up in Santa clothes for Christmas. (p. 24)

Cataleptic- A condition characterized by lack of response to external stimuli and muscle rigidity.
Usage: And he does have a certain cateleptic charm, a sunny membrane of optimism utterly impermeable to reality-- and equally oblique to critique: There aren’t too many people who will smile while you call them stupid to their face. (p. 34)

Truculently- Eager or quick to argue or fight; aggressively defiant.
Usage: “She is not,” I said truculently, “easing me in.” (p. 74)
(Note: This one always makes me think of the Lorax. Didn’t he refer to “truculent” trees? Something like that.)

Penumbra- The partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object.
Persiflage- Light and slightly contemptuous mockery or banter.
Usage: “Not just the...penumbra of persiflage you call the real you!” (p. 101)

Moue- A pouting expression used to convey annoyance or distaste.
Usage: Kyoko made a moue. (p. 158)

Helot- A serf or slave
Usage: In other words, harlot no, helot yes. (p. 184)

Simulacrum- An image or representation of someone or something.
Usage: ...and since Radar Hoverlander wasn’t well heeled like simulacrum Chad Thurston, the money would have to come from elsewhere. (p. 185)

The Cover:  Interesting cover. A faceless individual in stereotypical grifter garb. Very apropos.

There are some mild sex scenes, crudity and occasional vulgarity, but all of it is appropriate to the story and the characters involved. There was no real gratuity (other than gratuitous usage of pedantic vocabulary- which I loved!)

My final word:
There are interesting footnotes in the book, but they are used more parenthetically than in the traditional sense that footnotes are used. The character Radar even has a website in the book that is an actual website used by the author:

The story was a little slow to start, which is probably one reason that I took so long to actually read it, but by the second chapter it really picks up and takes off. At that point, hang on for the ride of your life! This book had so many twist and turns, I thought I may have to file a lawsuit against the author for whiplash!  A fun read that I would definitely recommend!

My thanks to author John Vorhaus for verifying the quotes for me in the final release version, and for his good humor and quick response!

My Rating: 8 out of 10


I won a copy of this book through Random House’s Read It Forward program. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, but I verified with the author that the quotes used did appear in the final printed copy.

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