Friday, June 29, 2012

"The Mark Inside" by Amy Reading (2012)

I used to keep an FBI Wanted Poster tacked to the wall of whatever office I worked in. Eventually, someone would always ask me who it was. I would always answer, “That’s so and so, and he owes me $10 bucks! Have you seen him?” As the man on the poster was usually a cold blooded killer, the reaction was usually predictable; something along the lines of, “Are you kidding?” In this fascinating book, Amy Reading gives the account of a man who wasn’t.

J. Frank Norfleet was a self-made man. He made his fortune as a rancher in the late 19th, and early 20th, centuries. In 1919 he went to Dallas on business. There he met Big Joe Furey, the most notorious “confidence man” in the country at the time. He traveled across the nation, coast to coast, with his cohorts, as they swindled every mark they encountered. That is, until they made the mistake of running their scam on Frank Norfleet.
From Benjamin Franklin, to P.T. Barnum, America has always had an odd relationship with those who bedazzle us. The promise of great reward for little, or no effort, is hard for any man to resist. We are, at times, simply put, a nation of “suckers.”
When Norfleet realizes that he has been swindled he goes home to his ranch, confessing his losses to his wife. Shortly before Christmas 1919, Norfleet, sitting with his wife in their kitchen, makes the decision to track down, and bring to justice, the men who robbed him of both his money, and dignity. This was no small undertaking in 1919. Even with cross country railroads, and telegraphs; as well as phones; things were not as fast paced as they are today. And that’s what makes Norfleet’s story so remarkable.
With a deft hand, the author takes you on a journey across America; not only in the Norfleet case and its subsequent trials; but also into the history of the Con Artist in America. Crisply written, and filled with a history apart from the main event, serve to make this book the perfect read for these hot summer days. The richness with which Ms. Reading has captured the personalities of the players in this story is truly rewarding.
When  the Literary World commented, in its review of the play "The Confidence Man" in 1849 that, “It is a good thing, and speaks well for human nature that, at this late day, in spite of all the hardening of civilization, and all the warnings of newspapers, men can be swindled,” Ms. Reading believes, as I do, that this shows we still retain a capacity for trust. And ill-advised as that may seem at times, it is, no doubt, a good thing. This is a very well written book, which gives the reader a closer insight into the history of the “con” in America, as well as the amazing story of J. Frank Norfleet, the man who, unlike myself, wasn’t kidding.

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