- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2002

DEPRAVED INDIFFERENCE
By Gary Indiana
HarperCollins, $24.95,319 pages


Nearly halfway through "Depraved Indifference," con artist Evangeline Slote and her husband, real estate mogul Warren Slote, take their scamming to Washington, D.C. "Warren occasionally dreamed of meeting Richard Nixon." And Evangeline "contrived this little Flags of the Fifty States meet-and-greet right there in the White House with the First Lady." Like other schemes put in place over a lifetime of deceit and manipulation until this point mostly in Hawaii and on the West Coast the event turned out be something less than they had hoped for:
"Mrs. Nixon smiled a thin noncommittal smile and scanned their little group with eyes, Warren thought, that had seen just about everything." When Evangeline tried to close the distance between herself and the First Lady, she did so with "all the subtlety of a linebacker … The Secret Service people ambled closer. Mrs. Nixon flashed them an imperious look …"
But Evangeline was not deterred. "Years later … when most of their shared memories had been revised and embellished so freely as to seem infinitely malleable and unreal," Evangeline told Walter that it was his liquor breath that drove Mrs. Nixon away. "'She asked me, 'Who's the juicehead.' Warren. She really did. Who's the juicehead.'"
This is a work of fiction about posturing, disappointment and deflected blame. It concerns the lure of easy money and the chill of remorseless evil. Like earlier books by Gary Indiana (yes, that's his name) "Resentment," which was written about the Menendez brothers' trial and "Three Month Fever," a nonfiction novel concerning the killer of Gianni Versace this narrrative is driven by a series of odd episodes like the preceding one that shows Evangeline and Walter at work and their feelings about what transpires. But the power of the novel belongs to Evangeline and she is a pip.
The book is unabashedly modeled on the crimes of Sante and Kenneth Kimes, the mother-son duo who mortgaged homes that didn't belong to them, enslaved Mexican maids and murdered an 82-year-old millionaire by the name of Irene Silverman who lived in New York.
The murder at the center of this fiction "faction" some now call the genre is that of 82-year-old Baby Claymore and it takes place against a backdrop of images from Sacramento, Nassau, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C. and New York. What the book lacks in linear plot development it makes up for in lavish descriptions of the wealthy communities in which Walter and Evangeline indulge their larcenous ways. Through its haphazard, manic twists Mr. Indiana seems to be making a great effort at finding out what makes a sociopath tick. And with Evangeline, at least, he succeeds.
Evangeline, like Sante in real life, was said to be beautiful in her youth. When Walter met her in Los Angeles in the late '60s "she wore some sort of Indian sari and teardrop earrings adorned with fake emeralds and she looked like Liz Taylor in Butterfield 8." He was taken with her, and she was taken with his wealth. "He owned two motor courts that were wildly popular with, always full of, motion picture pansies…"
At that point Walter knew that Evangeline had been arrested for shoplifting in 1961 in Sacramento, and booked but never tried for grand theft in Long Beach in 1965. She was then "tried and convicted and given probation for taking a Glendale dealership car on a permanent test drive, arraigned but released on a plea arrangement for credit card forgery in Santa Ana in 1968. But she had never done time."
Nevetheless, when readers meet her she is just getting released from prison for charges stemming from accusations that she kept Mexican maids against their will and forced them to call her Mama.
Walter and Evangeline had two children together, Devin and Darren, and at one point during her incarceration there is even a glimmer of what might have been without her. Of Devin, Mr. Indiana writes, "Her jail term humiliated him … But he felt unshackled, too. His father let him do anything; fill the house with his friends, make a mess, play baseball in the backyard. And not just because he was drunk. They were happy times for Warren too. He took an interest in his businesses again, he went golfing… .He even went to PTA meetings and softball games."
But intimations of any kind of straight life would be short-lived. From West Coast to East Coast, the couple was continually on the move, leaving a trail of identity fraud (credit card, social security number thefts) arson and insurance tricks in their wake,with Evangeline at the helm. As impossible as she is to imagine as a wife or lover, even with her beauty and "zest for life," it is her role as a mother that strikes a chill.
To be sure Devin was an odd body in his own right. "He had many unnerving tics and peculiarities, sidelong looks and thumby hand gestures he seemed to have picked up by faintly reptilian mimesis from other college kids, a smirky way of showing off his alleged intelligence."
In short order Evangeline would teach Devin, without interference from Walter, the ways of the life of a grifter. And over time, she would up the ante by adding incest into the equation.
Walter and Evangeline remained married until Walter's death in 1974. That event propelled Evangeline on a quest to start a new life. To do so she had to locate all of Warren's far-flung , assets and has to keep these, once found, away from her stepchildren and others who were laying claim to them. For a time she was able to succeed at this by keeping Warren's death a secret, pressing Devin into service as her greatest ally.
By this point in the novel all the groundwork has been laid for the denouement, the murder of the widow Claymore. The pair sidle up to her, appropriate her vast wealth and her home by elaborate layers of fraud and deceit. And when Baby refuses to be utterly compliant in the face of the duo's outrageous demands, they kill her.
Mr. Indiana is very adept at making this last horrific act seem somehow inevitable given who they are and all that they have done. But even as the conclusion approaches, readers are treated to an unending stream of cameo appearances from the likes of Henry Kissinger and a woman named Teeny who is clearly a stand-in for Tina Brown. This has the effect of reminding that these crimes are distinctively of these times. By choosing to write this book as fiction instead of nonfiction, Mr. Indiana makes his perpetrators human, and as such, all the more terrifying.


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