In the latest from Griffin (Caucasus: A Journey to the Land Between Christianity and Islam, 2004, etc.), a petty criminal flees the carnage of the Great War and lands among con men in the Big Apple, where war of a different sort is being waged.
Londoner Ben Cramb’s crimes were very small indeed—a little boosting, a little fraud—but they were big enough to send him either to jail or the trenches. He and his chums choose the army. All but Ben fall to German shelling. After a period in the hospital where he is mistaken for an officer and gets a taste of a better life, he flees the war altogether, nursing a serious case of what was then called shell shock and is now called Posttraumatic stress disorder, stowing away on a freighter bound for he knows not where. He only wants to get the hell out of Europe. Where he does land is New York City in the still neutral United States. He’s not out of hot water, though. There are those in the city who will regard him not as a victim but a deserter. Robbed of his small stash of cash, Ben bottoms out in the Bowery where he is picked up by Julius McAteer, a professional con man who sees a role for the good looking Englishman in a major scam he’s about to pull. Ben, knowing that McAteer could turn him over to the Brits at any time, quickly learns his role in McAteer’s scheme. He’s the hook to bring Chicago moneyman Henry Jergens into McAteer’s range, where the flush Midwesterner can be fleeced in an elaborate hoax involving Tin Pan Alley. What neither McAteer nor Ben knows is that Jergens is on to them from the beginning, working his own con to revenge his mentor, whom McAteer robbed years earlier. Jergens’s accomplice is his flame, a beautiful actress for whom Ben, like most men, falls hard. When the various stings come to a climax, they involve the war Ben thought he had escaped.