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Pros at Cons: Grifters, Scam Artists and Swindlers

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Con men are sometimes romanticized in literature, and sometimes reviled.  The morally ambiguous, ethically grey nature of the con man (or woman) makes him (or her) a compelling antihero, particularly when there is a code of honor underpinning the characters’ wrongdoing.  The con man can also feature as the lawful hero’s cunning nemesis or even as a shadow character, an unseen foil that influences the protagonists’ choices and actions throughout the story.  From romance to mystery to adventure, these stories will keep you on your toes!

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Jennifer Crusie. Faking It.

Meet the Goodnights, a respectable family who have run a respectable art gallery for generations. There’s Gwen, the matriarch who sedates herself with double-crostics and double vodkas, Eve the oldest daughter who has a slight identity problem (she has two), and Nadine, the granddaughter who’s ready to follow in the family footsteps as soon as she can find a set that isn’t leading off a cliff. Holding everyone together is Matilda, the youngest daughter, who’s inherited the secret locked down in the basement of the Goodnight Gallery, the secret that she’s willing to do almost anything to keep, including break into a house in the dead of night to steal back her past. Meet the Dempseys, or at least meet Davy, a reformed con man who’s just
been ripped off for a cool three million by his financial manager, who then gallantly turned it over to Clea Lewis, the most beautiful sociopath Davy ever slept with. Davy wants the money back, but more than that he’ll do anything to keep Clea from winning, including break into her house in the dead of night to steal back his future. One collision in a closet later, Tilda and Davy reluctantly join forces to combat Clea, suspicious art collectors, a disgruntled heir, and an exasperated hitman, all the while coping with a mutant dachshund, a juke box stuck in the sixties, questionable sex, a painting of three evil fisherman closing in on a dyspeptic tuna, multiple personalities, miscellaneous Goodnights and Dempseys, and the growing realization that they can’t turn their backs on the people they were meant to be…or the people they were born to love.
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Jennifer Crusie. Welcome to Temptation.

How to run a con…Step One, make the mark smile.  Step Two, get the mark to agree with you.  Step Three, make the mark feel superior. Step four, give the mark something. Step Five, get what you want and get out.  Sophie Dempsey knows how to run a con with her eyes closed and one hand tied behind her back, but she’s trying to put her family’s past behind her. While helping her sister film a video in Temptation, Ohio, Sophie Dempsey encounters the town’s handsome mayor, Phin Tucker, and the unlikely duo finds themselves drawn into a bizarre web of scandal, gossip, blackmail, adultery, and murder.

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Robert Ferrigno. The Wake Up.

Frank Thorpe is set to board a plane at LAX for a much-needed vacation when he sees an obviously poor young boy knocked out of the way and senseless by an arrogant businessman rushing to a waiting Porsche. Frank really needs some R&R. He’s just been fired – over a fatal screw up – from the covert operations “shop” he’s worked at for years. But Douglas Meachum – a hard-charging art dealer – needs to be made to feel something more than entitlement: nothing extreme, just a little wake-up call. Given Frank’s background and his expertise in good guy/bad guy tactics, it’s easy for him to set up a scam involving some embarrassing revelations about a faked Mayan sculpture that Meachum sells to one of his clients. But the client isn’t someone who takes kindly to mistakes. She’s a ruthless social-climbing psychopath who, with her surfer dude husband (the Thomas Alva Edison of designer pharmaceuticals), runs a huge drug operation. And she’s got an invincible thug duo – Vlad and Arturo – to carry out her notions of payback, which make Frank’s wake-up scheme seem positively genteel. What started out as a good (if slightly underhanded) deed quickly veers out of control.

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D.S. Lliteras. Master of Secrets.

Continuing his unparalleled literary quest to explore the immediate human fallout surrounding the crucifixion, D. S. Llliteras’s latest novel follows Addan, a young boy searching for his father, a disciple of Jesus. Along the way, Addan encounters bandits, lepers, and con men before teaming up with Jeshua, an entertainer and opportunist, who protects the boy while at the same time using him to help swindle unsuspecting strangers. Like all of the best fiction characters, Addan’s story mirrors our own search for a faith to help us understand and see us through our turbulent and troubled times.

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Katherine Neville. A Calculated Risk.

The author of The Eight returns with the gripping tale of financial shenanigans wielded by a senior woman officer of the Bank of the World who sets out to test the security system and ends up stealing millions.

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Barbara Parker. The Perfect Fake.

Struggling to work as a graphic artist, former master forger Tom Fairchild accepts a precarious but lucrative job from the millionaire father of his former girlfriend only to discover that the assignment involves a dubious ulterior motive.

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Judith Pella. Bachelor’s Puzzle.

The local church ladies society and their eligible daughters decide to make a quilt for the new circuit-riding preacher and try to outdo one another to gain the attention of the young minister, whose endearing mistakes may not cover up his deception.

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John Ridley. Love is a Racket.

Everything’s a racket for Jeffty Kittridge, a thirty-seven-year-old ex-wannabe scriptwriter living on the skids in Hollywood – the two-bit cons he pulls for spending money; the way he convinces himself that he’s not a drunk between every shot of booze he kicks back; the way he tries to assure Dumas, the local shark, that he’s just about to pay off his 15K debt…Except he’s not good at any of that. The fact is, Jeffty’s a loser, big as they come, and things aren’t about to change up for him anytime soon. Then he stumbles on salvation: a dirt-caked, street-hardened, exquisitely beautiful young homeless woman named Mona – Jeffty prefers to think of her as Angel – who inspires both his love and the idea for the perfect con. It’s Jeffty’s chance to hit it big, and to be set for good in his new life with his new love. “The thing about love,” Jeffty declares, “is no matter how twisted, or wrong, or evil, it never dies.” But as the momentum of the con carries him closer and closer to what he imagines will be a moment of blissed-out consummation with his angel Mona, Jeffty discovers there are some severe exceptions to his rule.

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Darrin Strauss. The Real McCoy.

Loosely based on the real life of a turn-of-the-century icon and charlatan, The Real McCoy introduces a character like no other in recent contemporary fiction. “Kid” McCoy was a man of many talents and faces: championship boxer, jewel thief, scam artist, and one of the most married men in America. Unfolding against the tumultuous backdrop of history, his story becomes a fascinating mirror of the times as he becomes a legend and a symbol of all that’s true in America. 

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Madeleine Wickham. The Gatecrasher.

Sophie Kinsella, author of the best-selling Shopaholic series, is the pseudonym of Madeleine Wickham.  Everything’s coming up roses for Fleur Daxeny, as she goes through more rich men than she does designer hats. Beautiful and utterly irresistible, her success at crashing funerals to find wealthy men is remarkable. Fleur wastes no time in seducing her latest conquest, the handsome and rich widower Richard Favour. His children are caught up in a whirlwind as their father’s new girlfriend descends on the family estate. Fleur is not one to wear her heart on her Chanel sleeves, but she soon finds herself embracing Richard and his family. But just as Fleur contemplates jumping off the gold-digger train for good, a long-buried secret from her past threatens to destroy her new family.

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Mike Carey. John Constantine Hellblazer: All His Engines.

When a hideous, inexplicable plague starts stealing children’s souls and leaving the victims in a coma all across London, who else but the “antihero” John Constantine can stop it? The punk-rock magician is called in by his sidekick, Chas, when Chas’s niece, Tricia, falls inexplicably comatose. To save her, the two men must go all the way to Los Angeles, where some of the world’s more ambitious demons have emigrated from hell to set up a satellite office. The most disgusting baddie of them all has Tricia imprisoned within his cancerous heart; if Constantine kills the demon, he kills the little girl as well. (From Publishers Weekly)

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Carol Higgins Clark. Gypped.

PI Regan Reilly and her husband Jack, head of the NYPD Major Case Squad, investigate an L.A.-based business scam that extends up and down the coast of California.

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Ed Dee. The Con Man’s Daughter.

Eddie Dunne’s hands are swollen from fighting, his cell phone rings to the tune of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” and his spending money is in a metal box above his bathroom ceiling. Banished from the NYPD and retired from his job with the Russian mob, Eddie plays the ponies and baby-sits his six-year-old grandchild. Then, in the blink of an eye, his life is invaded when someone kidnaps his thirty-five-year-old daughter. Now he must risk everything to get her back. Eddie knows Kate has been taken for something he’s done. He knows the Russians are involved, and he knows where they live, how they work, and where their bodies are buried. But the cops and Feds will give Eddie more trouble than help, his tangled loyalties will cancel out, and the danger he faces is one he must attack head-on with his own two hands. Because for almost twenty years Eddie and his former NYPD partner cut a swath of law and disorder through New York, hopping back and forth from both sides of the law amid thievery, extortion, and violence on a scale ordinary citizens could never comprehend. Now he has to find out which of his misdeeds will lead him to his daughter – or to his death. 

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Joe Gores. 32 Cadillacs.

When two successful scam artists, Yana and Rudolpho, make off with thirty-one cadillacs worth a bundle, private eye Dan Kearny and his team try out a few con tricks of their own to retrieve the vehicles.

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Patricia Highsmith. Tom Ripley series.

The novels that inspired the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Tom Ripley wanted out. He wanted money, success, the good life – and he was willing to kill for it.

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Ed McBain. The Con Man.

When a murdered woman is pulled from the river, Detective Steve Carella must follow a single clue–a strange tatoo on the dead woman’s hand–in order to capture the elusive con man who may be responsible for the murder.

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Harry Harrison. The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted.

James Bolivar diGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat, sets out to avenge the murder of his mentor-in-crime, The Bishop. The trail leads to General Zennor the nastiest man in the Nevenkeblan army, an army in search of a war and a general in search of world domination.

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Terry Pratchett. Going Postal.

Sentenced to death for forgery and swindling, Moist Von Lipwig accepts a pardon in exchange for revamping an ancient post office, but his efforts are thwarted by murderous characters who want the post office shut down.

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Terry Pratchett. Making Money.

The Ankh-Morpork Post Office is running like… well, not at all like a government office. The mail is delivered promptly; meetings start and end on time; five out of six letters relegated to the Blind Letter Office ultimately wend their way to the correct addresses. Postmaster General Moist von Lipwig, former arch-swindler and confidence man, has exceeded all expectations – including his own. So it’s somewhat disconcerting when Lord Vetinari summons Moist to the palace and asks, “Tell me, Mr. Lipwig, would you like to make some real money?” Vetinari isn’t talking about wages, of course. He’s referring, rather, to the Royal Mint of Ankh-Morpork, a venerable institution that has run for centuries on the hereditary employment of the Men of the Sheds and their loyal outworkers, who do make money in their spare time. Unfortunately, it costs more than a penny to make a penny, so the whole process seems somewhat counterintuitive. Next door, at the Royal Bank, the Glooper, an “analogy machine,” has scientifically established that one never has quite as much money at the end of the week as one thinks one should, and the bank’s chairman, one elderly Topsy (nee Turvy) Lavish, keeps two loaded crossbows at her desk. Oh, and the chief clerk is probably a vampire. But before Moist has time to fully consider Vetinari’s question, fate answers it for him. Now he’s not only making money, but enemies too; he’s got to spring a prisoner from jail, break into his own bank vault, stop the new manager from licking his face, and, above all, find out where all the gold has gone – otherwise, his life in banking, while very exciting, is going to be really, really short… 

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John Varley. The Golden Globe.

All the universe is a stage, and Sparky Valentine is its itinerant thespian. He makes his way from planet to planet as part of a motley theater troupe, bringing Shakespeare – a version of it anyway – to the outer reaches of earth’s solar system. Here Sparky plies his trade, transforming himself from young to old, fat to thin, man to woman, by altering magnetic implants beneath his skin. Indispensable hardware for a career actor and an interstellar con man wanted for murder – for while Sparky Valentine may have a song on his heart, he also has a price on his head. But his galactic roamings are bringing him closer to home, closer to justice – and closer to the truth of his strange and prolonged existence…

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Eleanor Updale. Montmorency: thief, liar, gentlemen?

In Victorian London, after his life is saved by a young physician, a thief utilizes the knowledge he gains in prison and from the scientific lectures he attends as the physician’s case study exhibit to create a new, highly successful, double life for himself.

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Scott Lynch. Lies of Locke Lamora (ebook only).

An orphan’s life is harsh – and often short – in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains – a man who is neither blind nor a priest. A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans – a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting. Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld’s most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful – and more ambitious – than Locke has yet imagined. Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi’s most trusted men – and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr’s underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game – or die trying.

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Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. Pros and Cons. (Downloadable audiobook only)Click this cover for a sample of Pros and Cons.

FBI special agent Kate O’Hare has made it her mission to nail international con artist Nicolas Fox. When she discovers his plot to plunder a venture capitalist’s twentieth-story Chicago penthouse of all its cash and treasures while the self-proclaimed “King of Hostile Takeovers” is getting married, Kate is 85 percent–okay maybe 92 percent–sure that she’s finally going to bag Nick Fox. Problem is, first Kate has to convince her boss, building security, and maybe even herself, that wedding planner Merrill Stubing is actually Nicolas Fox. Second, she has to figure out how to corner and capture him without disrupting the event of the year. And third, what’s going to happen once O’Hare finally gets her hands on Fox? It’s going take a pro to catch a con before the fireworks over Lake Michigan go off.  Story short prequel to The Heist.

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