Harrowing account of Bentley’s near-destruction by a skillful con man during their 14-year marriage.
The first-time memoirist narrates this improbable nightmare in an easy-to-read conversational style that makes it all the more unsettling. She met John Perry on a blind date set up by a friend in 1981, shortly after her 13-year marriage had ended. Bentley blames loneliness and vulnerability for her failure to spot the red flags that friends saw waving even after initial meetings with her suave older suitor. Perry regaled her with claims that he was a retired rear admiral with top government connections, and he had a drawer full of medals (including the Congressional Medal of Honor) to prove it. His stories included tales of CIA intrigue, Vietnam War heroics, even the assertion that he served as Frank Sinatra’s best man at the singer’s wedding to Ava Gardner. Bentley was understandably dazzled, but readers may have a hard time accepting her naiveté and gullibility. In short order, she managed to rationalize away Perry’s misuse of her credit cards, a mysterious visit to her house by the FBI, the presence of a gun and drugs in her husband’s briefcase and the discovery that he had surreptitiously taken out a second mortgage on her house. Perry’s erratic behavior and wild overspending soon had Bentley on the brink of financial ruin and mental collapse, but she pressed on with the marriage, blinded by her worldly beau’s lavish attention and elaborate excuses. Indeed, she realized the truth about her mate only after narrowly escaping several clumsy murder attempts. Extricating herself legally from Perry proved arduous and led to the author’s crusade to change California’s no-fault divorce law. Bentley’s cautionary tale makes for eye-opening reading, though readers may find themselves veering between sympathy and astonishment that a seemingly intelligent woman could be so thoroughly conned.
An engrossing modern-day fable, particularly timely in the age of anonymous Internet dating.