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.