Con Artists, Hoaxes, and Deceptions Fiction and Non-Fiction
There’s something about a con, or a hoax, that arrests the reader’s attention—not because we approve of the crimes, but because those of us who are innately curious have to know how they did it. Whether it’s sniffing out how a carnival gaff defeats every player or watching Melissa McCarthy forge literary letters in Can You Ever Forgive Me, we love to learn how the slickest slippery sort pulled off their deceptions. Even though these grifts have been happening since before the Old Testament days (Jacob and Esau, anyone?) these tricksters keep upping the ante. Here are six shiny new books undertaking the art of deception just this year…
All Good People Here
If the name Ashley Flowers sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve probably heard one of her podcasts, namely Crime Junkie. All Good People Here is Flowers’ debut novel, and it follows the narrative of Margot Davies as she investigates the disappearance and subsequent death of her childhood friend twenty years later. When she returns to her hometown as an adult and a journalist, another little girl has gone missing under similar circumstances, and Margot sees the chance to set things right.
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The shut-in of Covid-19 turned a lot of heads toward cryptocurrency. At worst, it seemed like a scam, whereas those who were more optimistic (or just curious) viewed it as an opportunity to earn investors fortunes. Dr. Ruja Ignatova, the cryptoqueen, founded OneCoin before the pandemic, and she’d disappeared with the $4 billion people invested within the same year. In fact, she’s still on the run. Jamie Bartlett began telling her story in his BBC podcast, and he tells the whole story—at least, as far as it’s progressed so far—in his true crime book The Missing Cryptoqueen.
This biography tells the story of the most renowned art forger in history, Tony Tetro. In the fascinating artistic journey that led to his prowess, including his aristocratic days and debaucherous nights, behind the full-length mirror in his California townhouse and into his secret art room. What’s best about this story is that (unlike that above), Tetro’s crimes are Robin-Hood-esque, perpetuating themselves out of embarrassment. He says: “Even if some tycoon finds out his Rembrandt is a fake, what’s he going to do, turn it in? Now his Rembrandt just became motel art. Better to keep quiet and pass it on to the next guy. It’s the way things work for guys like me.”
You likely heard of Crazy Eddie Antar and his electronics store chain from his iconic advertising campaign—“His prices are insaaaane!”—in New York during the 1970s and ‘80s. This biography tells the story of the American Dream as witnessed by the Antar family, starting in Jewish Syria, moving through paper bags full of money paid under the table, price-gouging for personal electronics, tax evasion, extradition from Israel, and on and on. Not to belabor the slogan, but his story itself is insaaaane, and an interesting way to learn about money laundering before the internet era.
According to Sottile’s true crime book, police showed up at former Mormon beauty queen Lori Vallow’s house when a relative called, concerned for her 7-year-old son, JJ. Lori said he was visiting a relative. The police asked to be called to confirm his presence, and when no one called, they showed back up to her house the next day only to find both Lori and her new husband Chad Daybell gone, too. When the bodies of both JJ and 16-year-old Tylee were soon found in shallow graves in the backyard, the Latter-Day Saints Church she was formerly a part of assumed it had something to do with the couple’s estranging newfound End Times survivalist beliefs. While it might not seem to fall under the heading of “deception,” these crimes were not limited to the personal, but wrapped themselves into the financial as well. If you liked Under the Banner of Heaven, this book will be another favorite of yours.
I couldn’t let a list of best books about cons go without mentioning Counterfeit. In this crime novel, two Chinese-American women run a grift exchanging high-end replicas for authentic designer bags, and it’s fascinating to see the lengths they’ll go to work the people who are onto them. I listened to this book on audio and highly recommend it to anyone with champagne taste and a beer bottle pocketbook.
What to Read Next
Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can find her short works at Oxford