King Con

By Stephen J. Cannell

King Con, a novel by Stephen J. Cannell
Book details

There is nothing quite like a caper movie. A bunch of loveable rogues essentially breaking the law, but it is ok as they are up against even worse rogues. It is not a genre that I have found in a book format too often, can you capture the humour and pace required to make the ride an exciting one? When you get the man behind the likes of The A-Team, 21 jump Street and The Rockford Files you would hope they know a caper when they see one.

Beano Bates is a very successful conman, too successful it would seem as he has now found himself on the Top Ten Most Wanted list with the moniker King Con. However, it is not the FBI that are Beano’s downfall, but the other side. When Beano decides to con the wrong man he suffers Mafia justice. Now broken and lacking in confidence Beano is thinking of quitting, but when a friend is killed he is forced to do one last job. An additional problem is that his partner in crime this time is a criminal prosecutor named Victoria Hart.

Released in the UK in the mid-90s, Stephen J. Cannell’s King Con has that Tarantino chic that so much media of the time had. It has the cool of a Killing Zoe or True Romance, but still retains Cannell’s sense of mischief and entertainment that was vital to the likes of The A-Team. There is a smoothness to the story that immediately lets you know that you are in the hands of someone who has done this before. This does mean that it feels a little slick and complacent in places, but as the book is so effortless to read you do not mind.

The key to the book is the relationship between Beano and Victoria. This is classic opposites attract. Their arc is incredibly familiar to anyone who is a fan of 80s TV or film, but that does not stop it being enjoyable. To counteract some of the lightness in characters, there are moments of darkness. The death of a loved one and the quickness that the Mafia are willing to enact violence means that the book never suffers from a lack of tension.

The structure is designed so that it is set up and then essentially three cons that get larger and more ambitious. The set up of these cons makes for great reading. Cannell has created an entire extended clan of Bates who all know how to con. We follow Victoria who is new to the world and is introduced to what is going on. We in turn learn about some classic con work.

The book only really starts to unravel when the slickness of the con starts to fail. I understand for the tension to rise things need to go wrong and the Mafia are required to shake things up, but this just stopped the book from being quite as fun. Without the pithy back and forth the book becomes a little stodgy and loses its way a little. Thankfully, this only happens towards the end and you have a lot of fun capering before that happens and although the conclusion felt a little heavy compared to the rest of the book, it is a satisfactory one.

King Con is not the type of book that most people are likely to pick up (and not just because it was last printed in the 90s). It feels like it is going to be flyaway and dated. In truth, it is both things, but that is good. Reading this book is makes you nostalgic for the crime punk films of the 90s and Cannell’s zippy writing means that reading the book is a breeze. It has the feel of a pulp novel that will age nicely and may just get rediscovered thirty years from now.

Written on 19th October 2019 by .

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