It'a about a 19-year-old Australian slacker named Ed Kennedy who drives a cab, takes care of his smelly old dog named the Doorman, and plays cards with his mates. One day he and one of these buddies are in a bank that gets robbed by a relatively incompetent bank robber and Ed helps in the capture of this fellow.
After a bit of notoriety dies down he gets a playing card in the mail. It's an ace with three addresses written on it. He feels compelled to visit the addresses and decides he'll play this game and do whatever needs to be done for the people at each place. As he finishes, he gets another ace, and so on through all four suits. But the "messages" he brings to each person is never made clear. He has to figure them out as he goes. Sometimes they're easy. Buy someone a treat and lift their spirits. Sometimes they are terrifyingly brutal. But his compulsion to do these jobs is quite engaging. He's striving to become someone who isn't just a slacker cab driver with few prospects. He desperately wants to do something with his life and hopes that by accomplishing these tasks for people, that he'll figure some things out about himself.
It's beautifully done. It just the right amount of scary at times and at others often quite hilarious. The characters, and even the town, are completely real, interesting and ring true.
The only problem came as I was flying through the ending trying to see if my guess about who the heck was orchestrating all of this was right. Zusak pulls a bit of a fast one on us and goes a bit meta in the end. There's too much wonderfulness in this book for it to ruin it for me, but yeah, not as tight or satisfying an ending as it could have been. But what do I know? Maybe he'd painted himself into a corner and couldn't get out of it any other way. Like Twain realizing he couldn't just drop characters down wells whenever he didn't know what else to do with them.
If the payoff of the mystery of the source of the cards is your primary concern while reading this book, you may be disappointed. If you enjoy the colorful writing, colorful characters and thought-provoking emotional journey covered by this young and brilliant writer, then you most certainly will not.
I also got a couple of surprises with this book. When I'd bought it I'd stuck the receipt inside. It shows that I got it for less that three bucks at Wordsmith Books in Decatur, GA which has sadly gone the way of so many other independents. The receipt was from 2008! I really do take a while to get around to reading the books on my shelves. Thanks goodness for the TBR Double Dog Dare to kick me in the pants!
The other surprise was that it wasn't until I came to the end that I flipped back and noticed this!
It says, "Here's to dogs and love...." and is signed by the author! How did I forget I had this? Wow, indeed.