Chameleon by Robert Brandt


The True Story of an Impostor's Remarkable Odyssey
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This historical crime debut details the life of a white-collar criminal who fled the United States for Venezuela in the early 20th century.

Civic leader and family man Henry Sanger Snow, from the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of New York, was 51 years old in 1908, the year he lost his job as treasurer of the New York and New Jersey Telephone Company. Newspapers quickly began reporting that his wife and children were now financially compromised, primarily because police learned that Snow had been embezzling thousands of dollars from his company for years. Snow instructed his family and friends to convince investigators he’d soon surrender; he fled the country instead. He arrived in Venezuela, where he used the name Cyrus N. Clark to establish himself. An energetic liar and manipulator, he eventually procured for himself the position of vice consul and deputy consul in Caracas. Throughout World War I, he used the post to cause mayhem for his superiors, Thomas Voetter and Preston McGoodwin, all while ingratiating himself to the nation’s cruel dictator, Gen. Juan Vicente Gómez. In 1918, Clark became the sales manager for the Caribbean Petroleum Co. He spent the postwar years comfortably, even starting a new family while his American loved ones fell from their once-lofty place in society, missing both financial and emotional security. Veteran journalist Brandt follows Snow/Clark’s tracks in great depth through most of the 37 years he avoided justice. This window onto the early 20th century is wonderfully clear, bolstered by exuberant research. With minimal editorializing, Brandt offers the portrait of a narcissist who “spent his life charming people, winning them over, and making them accept whatever he said.” Brandt quotes from four diaries Snow left to his children, as well as government documents; with tremendous gall, Snow upbraided Voetter for firing him by saying “double-dealing, insincerity...and injustice will surely recoil upon the man who adopts them!” Also included are black-and-white photos. Tellingly, one with Snow and his children has been ripped in half.

A classically riveting crime tale, all the more fascinating for being true.

Pub Date: April 8th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4935-0947-8
Page count: 298pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2015


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