Conman by Richard Asplin

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Conman by Richard Asplin

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A decent idea, badly let down in the execution by poor characters and a slightly predictable ending. It's harmless fun, but not nearly as gripping as the plot would suggest.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: May 2009
Publisher: No Exit Press
ISBN: 978-1842432945

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Thanks to the success of the BBC TV show Hustle, the art of the long con seems to be more popular than I ever recall. I've always liked the series, as it shows a battle of wits and there is so much that can go wrong the outcome is in doubt right until the end. Until Richard Asplin's Conman, I'd not read anything with quite the same level of intricacy, although Jeffery Deaver's The Vanished Man comes close.

Neil Martin runs a comic collector's store in London's Soho. Unfortunately, he's not very good at it and the business is rapidly failing. The large part of this is Neil's fault as he lost a lot of his own and a fellow collector's stock in a flood which, having neglected to write a cheque for the additional insurance, he can't claim for. He's dealing with his financial worries like many people, by throwing away or hiding bank statements and letters from solicitors and by dodging his father-in-law's financial advisor.

The knowledge that his father-in-law is a rich and titled gentleman who never felt Neil was good enough for his daughter is not helping his peace of mind. Having promised to care and provide for his wife and daughter and looking likely to fail miserably in this endeavour, when a man approaches him and offers to cut him in on a con whose profits will solve all his financial woes, he jumps at the chance. What Neil fails to realise is that when a con artists tells you the truth, it may not be the same truth as you think he's telling you.

Conman has all the outward appearances of being a great read, as it's decently paced with a great deal of story and there are more plot twists than you could shake a Marvel Comic at. Somehow these various pieces of the book didn't come together quite right, like when you've added just a touch too much salt to a meal. It's not something I can put a finger on exactly to explain where it all went wrong, but I expected to finish the book thinking how much I'd enjoyed it and it left me feeling slightly hollow. If you'd asked me at the end of the book whether I'd enjoyed it, I'd have been unsure how to answer and that's still the case.

The problem certainly isn't in the plot itself, which kept moving along at a decent pace and switched back more times than a Tour de France rider on an Alpine descent. However, by the end, it felt like the whole thing had been going on rather too long. The story was intriguing enough to make me want to keep reading it, but the plot was so elaborate, admittedly out of necessity, that there just seemed to be far too much of it. The same could be said for much of the back-story. I understand and accept that certain amounts of Neil's past and his current home life needed to be explored to help set up the story and show why he was so keen to accept the part he had to play in the con. But there did seem to be an awful lot of this and it felt as if Asplin was trying to ram the point home in places.

Unfortunately, these efforts were ultimately not entirely successful and the major issue I had with the book was with the characters. Admittedly, as a group of con artists, many of the major players have to remain slightly anonymous and neither Neil nor the reader would find out much about them, but Neil's character and those of his family also felt poorly drawn and two dimensional. This meant I felt nothing for him, even though his life was slowly falling to pieces around him and this badly lessened the impact of the story for me. I never felt involved or gripped by the story of Neil's misfortune and I reached the end painfully aware this was a work of fiction and feeling like an outsider looking in. There was little warmth in any of the characters and this was slightly off-putting. I really wanted to enjoy the story, but it felt as if the story itself was trying to prevent me from doing so.

I loved the basic idea behind Conman, as I always have done with Hustle. It seemed to have everything required to be a gripping and exciting read, but turned out to be lifeless. It's worth reading for the story, which is a decent one and for the plot, which is interesting without ever being captivating. Sadly, however, the whole was let down by some of the parts and it's not worth reading for the overall experience, which I found unexpectedly disappointing.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For stories of the short con with more interesting characters, check out Will Ferguson's Hustle.

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