David W. Maurer’s The Big Con provides a fascinating look into the carefully orchestrated scams pulled off by early 20th century con men. The “big cons” were truly elaborate, involving a large cast of con men, carefully scripted stories, props, role-playing and more. A typical big con started with a roper identifying a mark. The roper was a smooth-talking, respectable looking traveler who kept up with the news and could converse fluently on any number of topics.
This is the first Elmore Leonard book I’ve read that just didn’t do it for me. One of the great strengths of crime fiction is that its characters' motivations are always clear. The criminals and the people pursuing them are driven by the most fundamental human desires: greed, lust, ambition, resentment, revenge, justice. Crime fiction can be compelling because these desires drive us all, to some extent, and because characters who personify the extremes of these desires act out in flesh and blood the battles that most of us struggle with internally.
Elmore Leonard’s Glitz opens with Miami Beach detective Vincent Mora getting shot by a dopesick junkie in his way home from the grocery store. The bullet goes all the way through Mora, just missing his hip. After surgery and a brief hospital stay, the main character seems to disappear from the story. We next find ourselves, inexplicably it seems, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, following an American tourist and the cabbie who has become his full-time chauffeur.
The unnamed narrator of Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold pieces together a picture of events that unfolded on an infamous day twenty three years prior. In a small town at the mouth of a river on the Caribbean coast of Columbia, in what appears to be the second decade of the nineteen hundreds, a wealthy young man with no apparent enemies was murdered in broad daylight, in front of a crowd that included most of the town’s citizens.
Meursault, the main character of Albert Camus' The Stranger, is so passive and indifferent, he simply lets life happen to him, and what happens isn’t good. He tells his story as if he’s an uninterested and slightly befuddled spectator watching things happen to someone else. Meursault lives in Algiers. The year is around 1942, though the events of the war in Europe don’t impinge on the story. Meursault lives in a simple apartment and, working as a clerk in a shipping company, earns just enough to get by.
In The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker examines the central and unique tension of the human creature: we are going to die, and unlike other animals, we know we’re going to die. This is the fundamental source of human anxiety. It’s not culture-specific. It’s universal to the species, affecting all humans everywhere. We’re born into a world we don’t initially understand. We arrive helpless and dependent, and we know that. Bewilderment, helplessness and dependency are terrifying.
This book came to my attention when the Independent Book Publishers Association named it as a finalist for the 2023 Franklin Award. It describes the grassroots effort to rebuild rural communities in Sierra Leone after its bitter, decade-long civil war ended in 2002. The war left the country wounded and deeply polarized. Neighbors had committed atrocities against neighbors. Communities broken by distrust were barely functioning, and there didn’t seem to be a path forward.
The Kindle edition of The Reisman Case is free April 21-25, 2023. Grab a free copy at Amazon.com. We’ll also be featured on Free Kindle Books and Tips this Saturday. Summary A wealthy business owner asks investigator Claire Chastain to solve a simple case. Is his employee stealing or not? From the moment she’s hired, subtle clues tell her something’s wrong: the unbusinesslike business owner, the lingering scent of a woman on the stairs, the rustle in the curtains where someone watches from above.
Published in 1969, Philip K. Dick’s Ubik takes place in a fictional future of 1992. The corporate world is plagued by spies from Ray Hollis' psionic agency. The psionics have various psychic powers including telepathy and precognition. They infiltrate organizations to steal their valuable secrets. Joe Chip is a tester for Runciter Associates, the world’s leading prudence organization. Prudence organizations find “inertials,” people whose psychic counter-talents can neutralize the talents of Hollis' psionics.
Sunburn opens with a thrirty-something man, Adam Bosk, observing a thirty-something woman, Polly Costello, in a roadside restaurant in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. She’s come from the beach, forty or so minutes to the east, and her sunburnt shoulders are starting to peel. Her observer wonders if he should make a move, introduce himself, strike up a conversation. She wonders too, as he takes a seat two stools down at the bar.
1 of 20 Next Page