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Confessions of a Tax Collector By Richard Yancey (HarperCollins, 384 pages, $24.95) Attorneys, even those specializing in tax law, often find it difficult to imagine what really goes on inside the Internal Revenue Service, unless they’ve been employed as government counsel. Even employment as an IRS attorney would offer little insight into the operations of perhaps the scariest agency civil servants — the revenue officers. So, who could have imagined a former IRS revenue officer would compose a memoir not only exposing the agency’s inner workings, but also offering humor, pathos, and insights into the human condition on almost every page? Confessions of a Tax Collector is not just a superb memoir about working for 12 years inside IRS offices. It is a superb memoir, period. Yes, it contains detailed explanations of internal procedures, paperwork, congressional mandates, and judicial rulings. Yet with his gift for explaining everything clearly, no matter how complex the topic, Yancey never allows readers to become bogged down. Richard Yancey did not set out to become an IRS revenue officer. When he interviewed for the government job in 1990, at age 28, he felt desperate. Growing up near Tampa, Fla., Yancey came from an upper-middle-class family, graduated from college with an English degree, then tried a number of careers, including playwriting, acting, managing a convenience store, and teaching school. Nothing panned out. He was living in the home of a widow six years his elder; they called themselves an engaged couple, but marriage never seemed realistic. Yancey began thinking about finally establishing financial and emotional independence. The advertisement placed by the federal government for revenue officers listed a salary much higher than any amount Yancey had ever earned, so he applied. The memoir opens with his job interview at the Tampa branch of the Jacksonville district of the IRS. It is obvious from the first page that Yancey is an accomplished stylist. His eye for detail, his re-creation of dialogue, his ironic tone, his self-deprecation all serve a memoirist well. Some of the most memorable scenes occur in the field, as Yancey closes businesses due to delinquent taxes. Many of the business owners are uncooperative, even threatening. Revenue officers are within reason to fear physical assault. They do not carry weapons, however. So far, only one has been murdered in the line of duty. There are reasons for readers to feel nervous about the book, and not only because it demonstrates the power of the IRS. Yancey does not identify anybody by real name. He has altered personal histories and appearances of taxpayers, sometimes including gender. He has disguised his co-workers. He discloses that he has also altered chronology, “for clarity and to facilitate the narrative flow.” He has relied on memory rather than contemporaneous notes. Such practices can lead to exaggerations and downright inaccuracies. But there is something about Yancey’s words that seem trustworthy. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt, just as he sometimes gave delinquent taxpayers the benefit of the doubt — especially a day-care operator whose case arises throughout the book. Not so incidentally, Yancey’s memoir morphs into a love story in its final section. Late in his career at the IRS, he helps engineer the ouster of a supervisor. The new supervisor is Annie DeFlorio, smart, successful at work, and physically beautiful. She is a private person, but eventually her subordinates learn Annie is going through an ugly divorce. Yancey becomes infatuated with her, despite his knowledge that romances within the IRS are taboo. He finally works up the courage to ask her on a date to the theater. What happens after that is worth knowing, but for the sake of potential readers, I have decided against spoiling the ending. Steve Weinberg is a free-lance journalist in Columbia, Mo.

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