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Review: The Adjustment by Scott Phillips

09/01/2011 02:57 pm ET | Updated Nov 01, 2011

Just where do many of America's criminals come from? Scott Phillips' searing fourth novel, The Adjustment, plots the journey of PR man Wayne Ogden and his return from WWII, where he was a corrupt quartermaster and pimp. Ogden's struggle to fit into postwar Wichita, Kansas, lifestyle is what this novel is about.

Phillips' first novel, The Ice Harvest, was made into a film by the Oscar -winning director Robert Benton and starred John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton. The Adjustment is a film waiting to happen.

Noir fans will cheer this violently humorous account filled with black comedy, crooks, hookers and the like. Observations of Ogden's view of a Mary Poppins' society are turned upside down.

"I considered telling her the story of John Ruskin being shocked into a life of celibacy on his wedding night by the discovery that the genitalia of real women, unlike those in a classical statuary, were hairy," Ogden muses while contemplating the truth of a suitor to a woman he fancies.

The underbelly of mankind is exposed as raw, raucous. "You're smart enough to track me down halfway across the country, and dumb enough to fall in love with a hooker," Ogden says. "And you cheating Uncle Sam while guys like me was getting killed fighting."

"Ralph, you were stealing jeeps from the army. And I see you're still stealing cars. ... Shit, Ralph, you should have been satisfied with that. A job and a girl, that's the American dream."

Ogden is ready to try to continue his drive to survive in a corrupt world filled with criminals. The survival of the fittest seems to be the theme. Deranged, self serving, sexually driven and yet likeable Wayne Ogden is our unscrupulous procurer and criminal ready to triumph with his blackmail schemes and the like.

Just how does Phillips make Ogden likeable? Ah, this is Phillips' skill -- his ability to see the truth in situations. Phillips does not hold back on his observations of religion, sex, and society with its pretense. His bold truths become his biggest laughs and keep one turning pages. I was laughing so hard I fell out of my bed while reading.

Ogden has few redeeming character traits; still I was captivated by his thinking and what Phillips has created that reads as Ogden's bizarre charm. "...It inspired an inappropriate urge to laugh, " Ogden says, "And I forced myself to conjugate verbs in Greek in order to drive the other language from the forefront of my mind. I hoped the concentration on my face read to my fellow mourners as pained supplication for the safe passage of Huff's soul heavenward."

Ogden marries. "I'd married a woman with a real backbone, and I felt a kind of pride when she threw a carving knife at me, taking a gash out of the door frame." His wife becomes pregnant as he continues his infidelity and blackmail schemes involving the world of pornography and a corrupt boss Everett Collins, the owner of Collins aircraft, a Wichita aircraft company. Ogden serves as a troubleshooter and procurer similar to the roles he fulfilled while serving in the Armed Forces and offers his boss his services until he can no longer tolerate Collins.

Anonymous letters threatening to expose Ogden's past corrupt deeds begin to arrive. In self defense, Ogden plots how to destroy Collins, once his mentor. Extortion and murder ensue. "There was a market for everything," is Ogden's motto.

In true noir fashion, Phillips does not try to make the reader like him. He in fact does the opposite, yet I found myself cheering for Ogden's survival.

"Going to make you pay for what you did to Brunela," Ralph said. "And then I'm going to fuck that wife of yours. She some potato,"

Ogden replied, "You mean tomato, you dumb shit." I was tired of the sound of him and tired of the sight. He was just about to say something when I picked up the shovel."

The New York Times Book Review has written, "Noir crime..has found a sterling new champion in Phillips."
The Adjustment is his latest tome and well-worth what will be a quick read.