Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Book review: Con Ed

Would you like to learn how to run a really big con and swindle somebody out of millions of dollars? Then go no further than Con Ed, by Matthew Klein. This funny and fast-paced novel will not only educate you, but also entertain you mightily.

Kip Largo is a con man from a family of grifters and learned the trade at his father's knee. He tried to go straight and actually made it big for a while selling a legit diet strategy on TV. Unfortunately, the temptation to make money on the side caught up with him and he ended up going to prison for securities fraud.

Back out on the street, Kip is trying to make an honest living again, this time working at a dry cleaner in Palo Alto. It's the height of the Internet boom in Silicon Valley and he's lucky to rent an apartment from a 90-year-old immigrant who doesn't know the value of his land.

Kip is minding his own business one evening, having a beer at a bar, when he is approached by a beautiful woman who appears out of nowhere with an idea for a con. Kip hesitates until his ne'r-do-well son, Toby, shows up owing money to the Russian mob. Kip is lured back into the world he knows best.

Told in Kip's voice, Con Ed has a 40's noir sensibility to it; one could almost imagine Humphrey Bogart narrating. Klein lays out the story in a masterful fashion and intersperses chapters explaining classic cons. This being a book about the trade, all is not what it appears. Klein gives you the clues to figure out what's going on, but will you?

I'm a bad judge of whether or not Con Ed has a plot you can figure out. I certainly didn't, but I am very willing to suspend any disbelief and not try to figure out mysteries before the end. If a plot is obvious, I can tell. Con Ed was not obvious to me. I was surprised about the true con (although I did see the coda coming).

Klein's style is breezy and filled with funny observations and asides. It is perfect for the genre. With summer coming on, it wouldn't surprise me if Con Ed found its way to many a beach blanket. There’s no need to wait, though. If you need a fun read, grab Con Ed. Just don't take this education too seriously.

Cross-posted to Blogcritics.

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