In nineteen years of life, Ed Kennedy’s greatest achievement has been convincing a dodgy cab company he’s 20. That changes when he foils the getaway of a bank robber (with a little help from luck and his friend Marvin’s wreck of a car). One day he gets an Ace of Diamonds in the mail. No explanation, just three addresses and three times. When he gets around to investigating he realises that each house contains someone in need of his help. Two of his tasks are heartwarming, but the third is a lot less pleasant. As he progresses, more aces arrive. The tasks follow a similar pattern, but the clues get more obscure, and there are several people out there who are going to be really not happy if he fails to deliver. The arrival of the Ace of Hearts makes things even more complicated; this time it’s not strangers who are to be the recipients of Ed’s ‘messages’, but his own three best friends.
You know a book is good when you resent the call of the evening news, and dinner, for parting you from it. That was how I felt about The Messenger. Ed was such a wonderful character. He was a no-hoper surrounded by no-hopers, with little future and perfectly aware of his failings. Yet he was far from unintelligent - his bad grades were the result of spending too much time reading and too little studying - and his acquaintance with literature showed in the quality of his narration, which had both moments of lyricism and a feeling of immediacy, as if he were telling you the whole thing while sitting on his front porch. He procrastinated over the delivery of his messages and doubted his ability to get them right, but I was sure he’d manage; for surely no-one could be so devoted to his ageing, malodorous dog and not be kindhearted enough to respond to even a cryptic appeal for help. I liked that Ed himself wasn’t exempt from the list of recipients, but my favourite message was the next-to-last, where he discovered a new side to his tight-fisted friend Marv. The puzzle of who could be behind the carefully-constructed strangeness of Ed’s mission gave it a touch of the mystery novel, and when the answer was revealed it reminded me strongly of another book (which I can’t name without creating a spoiler). As regards the implication for the characters of that fact, I preferred the ending of The Messenger to the other.
As fabulous as it was during the reading, once I’d closed the book the warm fuzzies suffered from a swift dissipation. Because the unfortunate truth is, that not even the most uplifting of novels can leave much of an impression on my cynical heart, or make me hope that a book can change anything.