04 June 2007

The Big Con

The Big Con: the Classic Story of the Confidence Man and the Confidence Trick was written by David W. Maurer in 1940, but not readily available until it was republished in 1999, 18 years after the author's death. He was a professor of English at the University of Louisville, his archive there in the library contains over 1,000 items, mostly on the socio-linguistics of the underworld. According to his archived obit in the NY Times, Prof. Maurer sued the maker of the film The Sting, claiming it was plagiarized from material in The Big Con. I remember loving that movie when I was a kid, and I also remember enjoying Prof. Maurer's detailed descriptions of such "long cons" as "the wire," clearly the same hustle the movie depicts. The edition I have is a hardcover from Century/Random House UK, which I picked up for a few Irish pounds in a bookstore in Galway in the summer of 2001. It has an introduction by the writer Luc Sante, and includes the original glossary, which reveals such gems as "Pogy O'Brien" (a grifter who won't pay his debts) and "mudkicker" (a prostitute). The book is dated, and charmingly politically-incorrect, but an enjoyable and informative read despite getting bogged down a bit in technical details. Maurer clearly admires the con artist, and appreciates the urbanity and sang-froid necessary to rope in and fleece a "mark." The book is a treasure trove for crime writers. Powell's has a paperback edition for $8.95--M.C. sez get it while you can!
prid. Non. Iun.

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