Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014
hardcover - from the publisher, thank you!
Set on the streets of San Francisco, The White Van opens to something I've not yet seen in my crime-fiction reading history. Sitting in a local bar in the city's Tenderloin district one night, a 31 year-old woman named Emily Rosario meets a Russian man who charms her with whiskey and the promise of crack. She allows him to take her to a South Side Ramada Inn, where after the crack pipe comes out, he tells her that he and his wife (who have another room in the same place) are in town to make some money. With the promise of two hundred dollars a day, he adds that they'd like her help in their plans. Emily, who had been thinking about leaving her cheating bruiser of a boyfriend and needed the money to do so, agrees, and she's treated to more drugs, pills this time. In a drug-filled haze for several days, she finally is told what she needs to do -- nothing terrible, just a little case of "identity theft." As it turns out though, still out of her head drugged out, she's put into a van with a few other Russian people, and they head to a bank. She gets step-by-step instructions on what to do via an earpiece in her head, and told not to worry -- that someone on the inside is in on it. But as in most sure things, something goes terribly wrong and it's not the Russians who get their hands on the money.
Enter policeman Leo Elias, a member of the gang task force. His life is spiraling out of control due to gambling and some very poor financial choices he's made, and it's so bad that his house is being foreclosed on and he hasn't yet told his wife. His idea is that since the bank hasn't yet recovered the stolen $800 thousand-plus dollars, maybe he can get his hands on it using good old-fashioned police work and solve his monetary problems that way; but again, things just don't go as planned, and things take a definite turn for the worse. In the meantime, he's not the only one looking for the money.
If the point of this book is that sometimes the people who are supposed to protect you can be just as bad as the people they're supposed to protect you against, well, it came through loud and clear. Or maybe it's that people in desperate circumstances will do whatever it takes to get out of them. Or maybe it's just a book about the turmoil of life on the streets of San Francisco. I'm not exactly sure why, but I had zero connection to any of the characters in this book, where normally I can at least try to empathize with people drawn into circumstances beyond their control.
The White Van seems to be made for people who prefer plot-driven, nonstop action thrillers; I discovered after reading for a while that I'm just not the right audience for this book. However, if you look at the reviews that have been posted about this novel, I seem to be in the minority of opinion once again -- it's getting some good press and high marks from readers. I'd say if you're a big thriller reader, this might just be a book to look into.