Jessie: Delighted to shed the heaviest of winter layers when walking
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
Readers, do you love con artist stories? Writers, have you ever written a story that features one overtly?