The California Roll by John Vorhaus is a hilarious send-up of con men and the women who chase them, cons and cops alike. Vorhaus' narrator, Radar Hoverland (he swears it's his real name -- but is it?) has been on the game since childhood when he conned his old granny out of multiple servings of ice cream, using her incipient Alzheimer's to his benefit. That first sweet taste of success started him on the rolling road of the grifter, where he honed his natural talents of discovering weaknesses in his fellow men (greed, indolence, and an unfailing faith in the American dream) and then capitalizing on those weaknesses to score, and score big.
In the L.A. world of Vorhaus there are the mooks who work all day and there are the cons who scheme away their hours, living well enough (or better or worse) off the fruits of offshore accounts (or in the case of the worse-off, getting by on a few hundred scammed here and there). Hoverlander is one of the more successful of the grifters ("the day I'm sniffing through panty drawers for loose change is the day my big toe starts itching for the trigger") but the big score -- the so-called California Roll that keeps the con in cash forever -- is one he stays away from. Hoverlander likes to be in the game and has no interest in retiring. But fate comes knocking in the form of avenging angels of justice, multiple double and triple con artists, and the lure of ripping off the fastest-growing economy in the world. Hoverlander finds himself ensnared in the biggest con of his life, fighting for love, for money, and for the chance to just stay alive.
Among the madcap characters of The California Roll there is a love interest for the lovable Hoverlander; a hapless sidekick; an upholder of the law bent on revenge; and a sadistic, twisted, crooked bad-ass. Vorhaus supplies enough twists and curves to his plot to ensure that I was never sure which characters were playing it straight and which were not. Vorhaus also fills his landscape with plenty of local color, as found in the bar populated by "slackers, spivs, angle shooters, hucksters, mooks, art fraudists, pill pushers, franchise capitalists..." meeting up to "arrange alliances, pimp their sisters, sell contraband, buy counterfeits and chemicals, trade illegal aliens, and make record deals." I love how Vorhaus equates pill pushers with franchise capitalists and the trading of illegal aliens with the making of a record deal. All is fair in the pursuit of the American Dream - which in Vorhaus' book seems to be easy money, and a lot of it. Whether the dream is pursued through selling "grape juice at half a yard a pop" and calling it "a bonafide superfood, packed to the rafters with flavonoids, phytonutrients, antioxidants, esterified fatty acids, and just a splash, it would seem, of Ponce de Leon's original fountain of youth" or hawking tropical island real estate, or scalping after party passes to rock star wannabes, every one in Vorhaus' California - and The California Roll -- has a right to the dream.