"A tightly executed thriller, and the high point of a great series."– Kirkus Reviews
In King’s (The Murder Run, 2019) seventh Travelers novel, married con artists help rob an island casino.
The two main characters adopt different names in every town they visit. Here, in Madisonville, he’s Paul Longmont and she’s Jessie Taggert. Jessie has spent the last two months “worming her way” into wealthy Hugo Lansing’s life. Paul, meanwhile, poses as someone in need of $500,000 in bearer bonds, which Lansing can provide—for a $100,000 fee. After the wily couple swipes the bonds and sells them back to Lansing for 10 cents on the dollar, Alexander Koenig, the man who got Paul into the con game, contacts them. He asks the pair to join a crew that’s going to hit the Solomon Island casino, off the coast of Bathsheba City. The plan, as Koenig tells it, is to rob the room safes as a distraction while going for a larger prize: more than $1 million of mobster Jeffrey Smithson’s laundered cash. Two noteworthy pieces of information: There are no guns allowed on the island, and the date of the planned heist is Smithson’s 70th birthday, so he’ll be surrounded by immediate family. While posing as casino workers Max and Kelly Jo Barlow, can the Travelers outmaneuver other greedy cons and learn the suspicious Koenig’s real mission? King dials back his protagonists’ personal drama, which will offer new readers a clean introduction to the series. As always, the initial con is just complex enough to maintain interest, with repercussions that may or may not bleed into the rest of the story. King resists the temptation to delve too far into Koenig’s backstory, although he establishes that Paul has “always dreamed of beating him at his own game.” Another con artist couple, JB and Lulu, capably play tit for tat with the Travelers, showing the canny author at the height of his game. There’s some good gallows humor, as well, as when Max asks Kelly Jo if they should pose as missionaries, and she replies, “Have you heard the good news?” Although events crest early, the second half juggles a challenging number of moving parts.
Another full-throttle installment that shows that this crime series has no intention of slowing down.
This sixth installment of a series finds the Traveling Man grifting alone while his partner enjoys a normal life.
The Traveling Man, a career con artist, is using the name Tony Rogers while in Mitchellville, Maryland. His wife, continuing under the alias Nicole, has opted for semiretirement with millionaire James Denison in San Francisco. Tony flies without his usual backup into the midst of lawyer Jerry Chen, National Defense Agent Paul Robertson, and several other conspirators who have stolen NGO aid funds from Kyrgyzstan. Chen plans to break into the safe of Clemens, the conspirator holding key bank account codes, to protect himself from being offed by someone killing members of the group. The attorney contacts Missy Grey, a player who calls Tony to crack the safe. The heist goes well until someone murders Duke and Barker, Tony’s partners, making it personal. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Nicole battles the boredom of living straight by taking on Lily Crockett, a young apprentice criminal. Together they flirt and drink with men and joyride in stolen cars. But when Lily attempts a solo adventure, the callow con doesn’t escape the attention of her marks. They steal her purse and threaten to unravel her life, which forces Nicole to step in. In this latest volume of The Travelers series, King (The Kidnap Victim, 2018, etc.) maintains his svelte, addictive style despite a touch of nostalgia for his characters’ early days. As Nicole reminds Tony, “Money spends better when you have to steal it.” Denison can’t quite douse Nicole’s grifting fire, and she frequently tells him not to worry (“Just relax. This isn’t Cricket Bay”). The plot’s main thrill is seeing Tony in action alone among a half-dozen greedy backstabbers. There’s fresh tension here, as the author eventually proves that his con has “that old happiness” with Nicole and is “one step better than he was on his own.” From the elegiac tone, readers may suspect disaster in the final pages. Or will events leave the Travelers prepped for either the quiet life or another thrilling mark?
The author alters the stakes in this entertaining con artist tale and brings his characters full circle.
This fifth installment of a series sees married grifters attempt to tweak their con artistry with fresh talent.
In the town of Springville, the Traveling Man is going by the name John Ferguson. His wife, who usually helps him con criminals out of vast sums of money, is still using the alias Nicole Carter from their last caper. She hopes to retire in Cricket Bay, Florida, alongside James Denison, the grieving widower whom the Travelers recently helped. Replacing Nicole is 25-year-old Molly Wright, who has “more confidence than ability” in the grifting game. She and John plan to gain the trust of sleazy lawyer Neal Robertson and access his safe-deposit box at the Milton Bank—which may contain up to $100,000 in cash. Naturally, complications arise. Molly hasn’t mentioned her husband, Chad, who’d like to rip off John at the earliest opportunity. Interfering with Nicole’s retirement is Fred Stein, a crooked IT worker who recognizes her as Sally from the time the Travelers halted his credit card scheme. When these two wild cards intrude on the game, the cons end up pushed into some dark, murderous corners. For this latest Travelers outing, King (The Freeport Robbery, 2017, etc.) once again offers a lean, dialogue-driven blast of shifting alliances and action. Longtime fans will enjoy the emotional tapestry built around the notion that Nicole is “too old” to continue seducing marks and John needs to train her replacement. With minimal exposition, the author keeps his characters’ temperaments and decisions in the forefront of the story. It’s genuinely shocking—and narratively satisfying—when Nicole is honest with Denison and his family about being a con artist. Later, as events are boiling toward a fatal encounter, the Traveling Man’s no-nonsense savagery comes through in the line “I want to kill...so bad that I can taste his blood in my mouth.” As always, King leaves his creations in intriguing new positions by the end, ensuring anticipation for the next high-stakes volume.
This Travelers tale delivers another exceptional slice of gamesmanship, slippery morals, and emotional fallout.
King’s (The Blackmail Photos, 2016, etc.) fourth outing with the Travelers, a husband-and-wife con artist team, sees them chasing stolen artwork.
The Travelers go from city to city, orchestrating elaborate cons that rip off deserving crooks. This time around, the couple poses as Ron and Nicole Carter, in the city of Charles Bay. Their latest target is Pat McCall, a corrupt information-technology professional who deals in credit card numbers. After sleeping with him, Nicole tries to get him to drink some spiked water, so that he’ll pass out and she can lift data from his laptop. McCall doesn’t fall for this ruse, however, and Ron must intervene to salvage their identities. The 40-something Nicole blames herself for the failed con, believing that she’s no longer the femme fatale that she once was. Soon she and Ron are on a fresh con facilitated by Aaron Rickover, an insurance investigator. He informs them that a gold, jeweled casket that was on its way to the Peter Damascus Sculpture Museum in Los Angeles has been stolen and placed in a “freeport” vault, outside of the reach of U.S. customs. The museum offers the Travelers a $150,000 finder’s fee to obtain it. The Carters do manage to collect the masterpiece, only to have a rival squad of thieves unexpectedly engage them in gunplay at an airport. In this latest go-round with the Travelers, readers should already be accustomed to author King’s casual excellence, particularly when it comes to character development. In the first half, for example, he ably reestablishes a psychological rift between his protagonists when Ron suggests that they adopt a third partner—a younger woman whom Nicole could train to seduce targets. King then cleverly flips this dynamic, though, when they eventually con a cultured man whose wife is near death in a hospital, and whom Nicole allows to emotionally cling to her “as tightly as the last piece of flotsam from the wreckage of his life.” Overall, King delivers a solidly written, self-contained thriller that also sets the stage for his cons’ return.
Another exceptional account of heart-of-gold con artistry.
In this third installment of his Travelers series, King’s (The Computer Heist, 2016, etc.) con-artist couple target a would-be politician.
The Traveling Man and his wife are in a town called Randal Junction. This time, he’s taken the name “George Harrison,” while she goes by “Roslyn.” They’re posing as married real estate agents to penetrate the ambitious life of banker Donald Honeycutt, who’s running for Congress. The con begins in earnest when Roslyn draws Honeycutt into a sexual affair, and George clandestinely films one of their trysts from a van. They later mail the banker a package containing a few steamy stills and a DVD of the event, which he nearly opens in front of his even-more-ambitious wife, Billie Honeycutt. They also send him a note demanding that he drop $10,000 into a mailbox each month, or they’ll tell Billie and the media everything. The con proceeds apace until Billie notices a missing $10,000 that no campaign business accounts for. Although she’s aware of her husband’s one weakness—women—she’d made him promise not to philander during the campaign. She sets a private eye named Stan Jessup on the banker’s trail to learn more. Roslyn, however, has a secret that radically alters the nature of the blackmail scheme—one that could make Randall Junction the Travelers’ last stop. For his third small-town thriller, King nearly undoes his ruthless couple by pitting them against an equally horrible duo. Billie, for example, is only with Donald because she “plans to go to Washington and take her wheeling and dealing to the next level without having to be in office herself.” As usual, King’s dialogue and secondary characters make for rich, pulpy reading; for example, when Sheriff Bo Teardale catches up with George, he reassures him by saying, “You’ve been watching too much TV. If I want you disappeared, you’ll disappear.” And even though King gives Donald the self-deprecating line, “It was the plot to a bad movie,” he masterfully crafts the deadly tangle of interpersonal alliances and their fallout. Although this volume could finish the Travelers’ tales, a sequel would be irresistible.
A tightly executed thriller and the high point of a great series.
King’s (The Traveling Man, 2015) latest thriller picks up the trail of his married con artists as they descend on a software company.
Samantha Bartel is the assistant director of new development for Leapfrog Technologies in Cloverdale. Middle-aged, unmarried, and resentful of her superiors at Leapfrog who have benefited from her work, Sam plans sabotage. Enter the Traveling Man and his wife, this time using the names Joe and Tess Campbell. After surviving their previous con in Seanboro, this ruthless, manipulative couple once again hopes to fleece a deserving mark. Sam reveals that her company is about to roll out a data-mining program called Lilypad 5. For $100,000—half up front—she hires the Campbells to help steal the program and destroy the server holding it. While Leapfrog reels from the “accident,” Sam plans to sell Lilypad 5 to one of her firm’s competitors. Personal lives, however, tend to skew even the best-laid scams. Ronnie Franklin, Leapfrog’s director of new development, and Leroy Smalls, the company’s security chief, need piles of cash for private reasons. Once an initial double cross threatens to implode Leapfrog, the Campbells must stay ahead of the mayhem if they want to get paid. King returns in fine form with his devious creations in tow. Fascinating as the Campbells are, however, Sam, Ronnie, and Leroy vie for the reader’s sympathy in remarkable ways. When lovelorn Sam dines with a potential mate named Reuben, she wonders whether her life with him “would be just as empty as it was now, only with twice the laundry and cleaning?” King hints at the potential for psychological trauma from the lives his protagonists lead when Tess declares, “I don't have PTSD. I’m completely over what happened in Seanboro.” The violence here, though brief, is unexpected and staggeringly brutal; the repercussions electrify the narrative. King leaves his audience clamoring for more seedy, smart adventures, with perhaps a bit more damage accrued to Mr. and Mrs. Traveling Man.
King strikes another vein of modern noir gold in this technology tale.
Husband and wife con artists must get back on their feet after a scheme goes spectacularly wrong in this criminally good debut by King.
Married hustlers Tom and Patty (or, at least, those are their aliases) arrive in a small town alongside their partner, Buddy Ray, with the intention of pulling off a lucrative con—selling contaminated lakefront land for a high price. Everything proceeds according to plan, until Buddy and Patty go against Tom’s instructions and take on a doomed side deal. From there, things take a dangerous turn, and Tom and Patty are left to pick up the pieces of their business and personal relationship (and heal more than a few physical wounds). After taking a monthslong break, the couple tries to get back in the game—with similarly messy results. On the spectrum of grays, these two are much closer to black than white. They cheat, steal, manipulate, blackmail and even kill when the moment calls for it. Yet readers might still find themselves white-knuckling their books (or e-readers) when the pair is in a tight spot. Despite the couple’s more questionable values, Tom and Patty’s relationship is based on love, loyalty and trust, and even they have their red lines: “We don’t scam civilians. Rule number two. We use them; we pay them; we stay out of jail.” Charismatic, levelheaded Tom is especially likable despite his criminality. It also doesn’t hurt that Robert and Pamela Johnson (as they call themselves in the second half of the book) are more than once pitted against an even more cutthroat thug who makes them look like the good guys. Surrounding them is a cast of superbly sketched characters whose competing motives constantly trip up their plans, such as Marcie, the overconfident, small-time real estate agent they’ve looped into their land-sale con. With a story every bit as intricate and entertaining as the personalities who fill it, King’s uncommonly solid debut is a must-read.
An absorbing, deviant tale of redemption.