Wicked Wednesday- Prose and Cons

Jessie: Delighted to shed the heaviest of winter layers when walking the dog!

Maybe it doesn’t say anything good about my character, but I love stories featuring con artists. I am particularly fascinated lately by podcasts that tell their stories, including their downfalls. I wondered if the rest of you enjoy tales involving con artists, whether in novels, podcasts, or even film. Or, do you find such characters a total turn-off and avoid them at all costs even in the fictional world?

Edith/Maddie: I’m jumping in here with one of my favorite historical series, Victoria Thompson’s Counterfeit Lady Mysteries. Elizabeth Miles Bates was raised as a con artist, learning from the best – her father. In her now conventional married life, she tries to leave running cons behind but struggles with it, especially when a con seems like the best path to justice. The characters and stories are a delight.

Julie: Edith, thanks for the recommendation! Going on my TBR list. I love reading about or watching fictional cons. The Sting, or The Inside Man, for example. The intricacies of the plotting, the way the reader is surprised, it’s all fascinating when done well. I also enjoy watching documentaries about cons, but find those harder when I think about the victims. I watched a documentary about Bernie Madoff that made my stomach hurt, and made me think a lot about con artists.

Liz: These characters are like a train wreck you can’t look away from! One who stands out to me is Dirty John, the subject of a podcast and also a TV series. This guy was BAD – but the whole experience of taking the journey with the last woman who was conned by him was fascinating. Of course, I felt awful for the women who were subjected to the things he did. Also, I’ve been watching a lot of cult documentaries – and those are the biggest cons! My latest obsession is the NXIVM cult and its horrible leader. I’m obsessed with devouring everything about it, mainly because he had so many people – both women and men – under his con for so long and did unthinkable things to so many people that took many years to catch up with him.

Barb: Sign me up as another one who loves con artist stories. Speaking of Madoff, I had to do some research about affinity scams for my novella Scared Off, which features a con artist. An example of an affinity scam is a Ponzi scheme where the victims are a part of a community, either geographic, ethnic, religious, a fraternal organization, or some other. (Just like the original Ponzi.) These scams are too easy to pull off because as one trusted person vouches for the person, then another does, and ultimately no one ends up really checking the schemer’s history or external references. I always ask myself, “Could I have fallen for that?” It sends a shiver down my spine, even as I tell myself I never would.

Sherry: I love a could con story too and have one in A Time to Swill. Although really, all the murderers in our books are trying to con people into thinking they didn’t do it. And Barb talking about one trusted person vouching for another makes me think of all the fake accounts on social media where a friend is friends with someone so you think — it’s okay if I friend them too. I’m much more cautious than I used to be! I have a book in my TBR pile, Confident Women, by Tori Telfer about con women that sounds fascinating!

Jessie: I found myself nodding my head as I read each of your responses! I am delighted that a fascination with con stories and their protagonists is something we share! Sherry summarized the whole of it so well! Crime does seem to come down to conning others in some form or other.

Readers, do you love con artist stories? Writers, have you ever written a story that features one overtly?

17 Thoughts

  1. My absolute favorite guilty pleasure is the TV show Leverage and its reboot Leverage: Redemption, so yes, I love a good con story. The true story ones, though, make me a little ill.

    I feel as mystery authors, we do some conning as well, trying to misdirect our readers from guessing whodunit in our books while still having all the clues there in front of them.

    1. I haven’t tried Leverage. Now I want to give it a peek! Perhaps an affinity for the con is one of the things that draws certain writers to the mystery genre.

  2. Like Edith, I do so love the Counterfeit Lady Mysteries! I find the con artist aspect a very interesting and enjoyable aspect to some stories. Like in this series because it’s handles fabulously.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  3. When I lived in Florida in the 1980s it seemed like there was a con on every corner! It was home to the boiler room scams. These houses of cards fell in the late 80s and I was shocked to find out how many people I knew and trusted were employed by these scammers. Some were duped innocents, others not so much!

  4. I love both The Sting and Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels. In real life, though, cons are always so sad.

    1. Not in the Counterfeit Lady book! Elizabeth is a reformed con artist, and she does cons to help people now. So much fun!

  5. I enjoy cons when they are out to help people rather than just benefit for themselves. As a result, I love the Counterfeit Lady books as well.

    I also loved the TV show White Collar. It helped that the characters were fantastic. It went a season or so too long and the storyline got ridiculous, but still, it was a great show.

    And I’m enjoying this season’s The Company You Keep on ABC. The con artists are usually bad in this one, but I still can’t help rooting for them.

  6. Thanks for the shout out to the Counterfeit Lady Series, Edith! Those books are so much fun to write, especially because Elizabeth uses the cons to help people. You get to see how a con works but you feel good about it, too!

    I also loved Leverage, and The Sting. Both great examples!

    –Victoria Thompson

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