1932—hard times for most; easy pickings for flim-flammers.
But, of course, you gotta know the territory. Which, for the ladies and gentlemen of the con, means locating that apex where the swollen wallet meets the fat susceptibility. Thomas Schell, a confidence man descended from confidence men, is a dab hand at isolating the mark. His current game is spiritualism, and when deep in a “mediumistic state” he can charm the ghosts from the nether world so convincingly that he and his two trusty aides are making a good thing out of the Depression. His aids: swami Ondoo, Schell’s mystical deputy, and Antony Cleopatra, third banana, chauffeur and muscle in time of need. Ondoo, aka Diego, a young Mexican illegal befriended by Schell, serves as narrator. He idolizes his benefactor, aims no higher than to match the skills that have made Schell enviable in the con community. But the incisive, miss-nothing Schell is less than himself these days—-a kind of weltschmerz seems to have undercut his transcendent amorality. It’s about this time that Schell sees, or imagines he sees, the eponymous girl in the glass and is knocked sideways by the apparition. A child is missing, he subsequently learns, her family desperate, the police baffled, and Schell, impenetrably skeptical to now, thinks he might have been given a sign. In the meantime, there are other developments to cope with. For one, Diego has fallen in love, diminishing, to a considerable degree, his ability to focus. For another, there’s the bothersome presence of a bevy of KKK-like crackpots, their mission: the racial purification of Long Island, N.Y. Suddenly, the trickster life has gone complicated.
Ford (The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, 2002, etc.) romps engagingly here—his Schell an intriguing scoundrel, as if Sherlock Homes had a Moriarity taint in his gene pool.