A look at the art of the con, based on the story of a man who fought back against the con artists who swindled him.
In 1919, J. Frank Norfleet, a 50-something Texas rancher, lost his wealth to a band of professional con men. Rather than swallow his losses or wait for the police to investigate, Norfleet decided to travel the United States wherever necessary to track down his swindlers and exact some sort of non-physical retribution. In a sometimes-dissonant mix of pop-culture and scholarly writing, Reading alternates among the Norfleet saga; the unreliability of memoirs, since she depends so heavily on Norfleet's own published accounts; and the larger context of how scammers have operated throughout American history. Despite the uneven narrative, the book is fascinating because Norfleet's quest seems both quixotic and inspiring. The prologue of the book is a con in itself, which Reading admits in the back matter. Otherwise, she writes, the book is entirely nonfiction, with every line of dialogue and atmospheric detail grounded in what she hopes is a reliable published source. Reading's doctoral dissertation focused on strategies of deception in American autobiographies, providing her with insights into how a researcher might separate truth from lie, strict accuracy from exaggeration. Norfleet is not the only notorious character from the period that Reading vividly portrays. Several of the men participating in the con were well known at the time, as were some of the law-enforcement officers who eventually helped Norfleet attain a modicum of justice.
A worthwhile read for those interested in the underbelly of American history.