I love cons. Not the guys in prison, although one of my book’s heroes is an ex-con, but the kind of cons in books and movies where there’s a very fine line dividing the good guys from the bad. Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, and Donald Westlake come to mind as authors who test the ethics of the main characters.
“The Sting” is one of the best movies ever made about crooks ripping off crooks. Who can forget Paul Newman’s Henry Gorndorff as he and Johnny Hooker, Robert Redford, put one past crooked businessman Doyle Lonnegan, played by Robert Shaw? Then there’s The Grifters, a much darker movie about a conmen. There are so many more where the theme is greed, as it is in all the books and movies where a con or fraud takes place.
I’ve written four books, seven, if you count three under my pen name, and all but two have some kind of fraudulent dealings. Two of my books have a con- artist as a main character. In my case, both are women. Surprise!
In HOOKED, my heroine is an ex-call girl whose illegal offshore account is discovered when the feds dig into the affairs of an old client, a Brooklyn mob boss whose accountant buried her money, unfortunately not deep enough. The New York Sex Crimes Division, in collaboration with the IRS, offer her a deal―work undercover at a high-class brothel to find out who’s murdering prostitutes, and they’ll give her a pass for failing to pay Uncle Sam his share of illegally-earned money—after she pays back taxes and penalties. That’s right. She was skimming off the top to save for an early retirement, which the cops won’t allow until she does what they want. Damned if she does; damned if she doesn’t.
In MIND GAMES, my psychic entertainer has been called every name in the book ever since she was six-years old, but fraud is the one that sticks. Is she? Hmm, yes. Sometimes. Arranged seating at her performances paid for with credit cards allows her computer hacker employee to glean information she can use in her act. Then there are telephone records, email accounts―well, you get the picture. There are reasons why she pretends to be a charlatan, of course, but she’s still a cheat even though she really is psychic. Sound complicated? It is.
The unethical careers of my female characters are explained up front, but the other two books written under my name, InSight and MURDER DÉJÀ VU, have business scams that, if explained here, would give away too much of the story. I will say one of them has to do with pharmaceutical fraud and the other with a Ponzi scheme, and both require the expertise of a forensic accountant to expose the fraud, as does Hooked. These schemes result in the deaths of innocent people, none of which involve my main characters.
Unless crimes of passion are involved, most mystery/suspense/thriller books have some sort of greed-generated crime that entails cooking the books. In the real world, one doesn’t have to look far to see the behind-the-scene chicanery perpetrated by the rich and crooked who will unlikely spend one day in prison for their fraudulent ways. The crooks in my books always get caught. In real life, not so much. Makes you wonder if crime really doesn’t pay.