Forgottonia's Soldier is a multiple-point-of-view crime novel that focuses on three characters: Lucinda "Lucy" Cole, a twenty-six-year-old part-time gas station clerk who is finishing up her bachelor's degree at Western Illinois University; Tom Barger, a thirty-two-year-old employee at Illinois Pork Products (IPP), a slaughterhouse; and Quince Thoroughgood, a twenty-one-year-old journalism student at Western.
The novel is set in the spring of 2003, at the beginning of the second war in Iraq. Lucy, who still lives at home with her parents, is going to graduate at the end of the semester, and her father, the purchasing director at IPP, has plans for her to join him at the slaughterhouse and work in human resources. She doesn't want the job and wants out of Macomb, a desolate region of west-central Illinois that was once dubbed Forgottonia.
At the beginning of the novel Lucy bumps into Quince Thoroughgood at a bar. She knows his face from the school newspaper, The Daily Leatherneck , where he writes a weekly column. Several reservists are drinking at the bar, talking about their impending deployment, and Lucy, lonely and desperate, buys Quince a drink and tells him she has a story he could use for his column: the deployment of her friend, Tom Barger. Lucy tells Quince that Tom is a single parent and his nine-year-old daughter, Jules, is going to live with her. None of this is true—Tom isn't a reservist and doesn't have a daughter—but Lucy likes the attention from Quince the story gets her.
Quince, who has high hopes for his journalism career and thinks Lucy's story could be a strong one, follows up with Lucy a few days later about the soldier. Lucy then manages to stage a meeting with Tom and Jules. She tells her friend Tom that she is making a documentary about the life of a soldier. She also borrows Jules, a home-schooled nine-year-old, from a neighbor, and tells the girl's parents that Jules is going to play the daughter of a soldier in her documentary. At the first meeting, Tom and Jules pose for photographs, and Quince interviews them. The story runs in the campus newspaper and several students write in comments about poor Tom and Jules.
Tom notices that there aren't any cameras around at the meeting, but he thinks there must be something legitimate about the whole ordeal, since there is a reporter present. He doesn't confront Jules about the lack of cameras.
Lucy likes the effects of her staging. She feels like she is accomplishing something, affecting people's lives, and she stays in touch with Quince. She suggests that he publish some of Jules' letters to her "Dad" and when Quince says it's a good idea, she writes the letters -- full of heartbreak and misspellings -- herself. The paper publishes them, and the reaction, again, is huge. Letters to the editor start bickering about Bush's policy in Iraq, about weapons of mass destruction, and about this poor girl Jules who could end up parentless.
As the next month progresses, Lucy sends e-mails to Quince, pretending to be Jules. Quince is touched by the girl's e-mails, even if he wants to use them to further his career. He ends up publishing a weekly column by nine-year-old Jules about the life of a soldier's daughter.
Because her fictional soldier is now supposedly in Iraq, Jules eventually feels a little trapped by her own story. She enjoys sending the e-mails, but with Tom deployed, there aren't any chances for photo ops and feature stories. So she decides that Tom is going to get a leave of absence to come home and visit his daughter. Quince brings along a cameraman, and Tom and Jules celebrate her tenth birthday together. Tom and Jules are still under the assumption that this is a movie, but don't see any cameramen. Lucy tells Jules that everyone -- all of the students walking by, the employees of the pizza joint where they go to eat -- is an actor, and that the cameras are everywhere. Tom is pretty certain that Lucy is making all of this up, but he doesn't know what the hoax would be, what Lucy could stand to gain. Quince writes an amazing piece and begins sending out his clips to prospective employers.
Summer, and Quince has landed a job in Peoria at The Journal Star. Lucy has graduated, but she is still working at the gas station, uncertain about what she's going to do next. Amid pressure from her father about beginning work at IPP, Lucy decides that the soldier Tom needs to die. She contacts Quince and tells him the heartbreaking news. Then she plans a funeral. Quince comes from Peoria, but reporters also come from the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune's reporters start to dig and find out there is no soldier named Tom Barger. Lucy's plan blows up. Jules' parents find out what Lucy has been using their daughter for. And Tom learns just what Lucy has been up to.
The sorting-out of events is a little rocky. People accuse Quince of being a co-conspirator. They also accuse Tom of being in on the hoax with Lucy. Jules, in the eyes of most of the media, appears to be the only true victim.
Ultimately, Lucy's caper, at the heart of Forgottonia's Soldier, examines the loneliness and ambition of a small group of Midwesterners amid the patriotic tumult of the spring of 2003.
Technically this isn’t crime fiction but that’s about the only thing wrong here.
Ths is a well executed synopis, with enough dtail to get a sense of the story. Given the rash of Jayson Blair like events this is probably topical enough to get some interest.