Friday, August 17, 2007

What would you do?

Novice writer thrills with debut mystery

Express Staff Writer

?Restitution? by Lee Vance, Knopf. 322 pgs. $23.95

What would you do if you could retire in your 40s after 20 successful years working at one of the larger investment firms in the country?

New York City and part-time Sun Valley resident Lee Vance had a few ideas. He wanted to learn to fly a helicopter and did, getting his private helicopter license in the process. He took math classes at Columbia University, and he had this idea to write a "fun, hopefully well-written mystery novel."

And he did.

Vance's first foray into the literary field, "Restitution," has proved a huge success. Published in July, it has in fact launched the father of three into a new career.

"I had a germ of an idea while I was still working," he said. "I had lived in London and worked in Russia, where the banking business is rife with fraud. I had this romantic notion I could sit down and finally write this book. But until I treated it as a job I got nothing done."

He borrowed office space from a friend and began writing. Eventually, to jab him into more productive action, he hired four Columbia University students to act as readers and critics of his working manuscript.

"They were brutally honest," he said.

He acknowledged each of them in the book, but singled out one—Jennie Yabroff—who became a journalist and worked with him through the whole novel. Vance admits he's a lucky guy but he may not have pulled it off had he not had serious smarts and a solid education in life behind him. He graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School.

Now, at 49, he likes to say, "You don't get to my age and not know a lot of people." A friend introduced him to an agent who liked the book and though it took several years from edit to publish, she sold it to Knopf. Not bad for a first-timer.

"I've been extremely lucky," he said. "I'm thankful."

"Restitution" concerns a high-powered Wall Street type, whose wife is mysteriously murdered, whose best friend goes missing in Russia and who becomes a murder suspect. Like "The Fugitive" and Peter Bourne before him, all he knows is to keep ahead of the law and figure out the mysteries himself.

The book, advertised is a page-turner, is smart and has well-developed and effective characters. Jumping from continent to continent, the tale uncovers more than just a murder mystery but an embezzlement scheme and a medical breakthrough.

"If anything, people accuse me of over-plotting," Vance said.

Already at work on his second novel, he seems to have achieved his pie-in-the-sky wish.

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