Scam lights up first novel's pages 
Sunday, March 11, 2007

Matthew Klein's first novel, "Con Ed," begins like this: "It's the world's most simple con, and any idiot can do it, even the one sitting next to me." 

The narrator, 54-year-old Kip Largo, should know. For the past year he has been working at Economy Cleaners for $10 an hour, plus tips. ("You ever leave a tip at a dry cleaners? That's what I thought.") Before that, he was in prison for five years. And before his stretch at Lompoc, Kip was the world's greatest con man. 

But now he's an honest man, working at the dry cleaner's and selling vitamins over the Internet. "It's called It's totally legitimate. Unfortunately. I net about twenty dollars each month." 
Then Kip meets Lauren Napier, wife of billionaire Las Vegas magnate Ed Napier. Lauren's got a black eye, a beautiful body and a problem: If she divorces Ed, she'll get nothing. She wants Kip to con Ed out of his billions and offers him $100,000 for his help. Kip isn't interested. 

At least not until his ne'er-do-well son, Toby, shows up and confesses that he owes $60,000 to the Russian mob and has no way to pay it back. Tony, who's a bit slow on the uptake, isn't too concerned about this state of affairs -- until a hired thug breaks his leg. 

Feeling guilty for how he's neglected his son when the kid was growing up, Kip decides to pull one last high-stakes con. But he won't be content to settle for just $60,000 or even $100,000. He wants millions and millions so he can leave the life for good. He gathers a team, borrows $12 million in diamonds and starts assembling a convoluted con involving an imaginary brand-new Internet-based company. "Con Ed" is set just before the dot-com bubble burst, and here Klein, who founded three tech companies, clearly knows his stuff. 

Along the way, Kip explains to the reader how various scams work. Told in Kip's wry and self-deprecating voice, the story doesn't have a single false note. How Kip talks about himself and his cons makes a fairly common story line into something that is always entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. 

The novel is called "Con Ed," but it could also be read as "conned." And you won't find out who's scamming whom until the very last page. 

April Henry's most recent book is "Shock Point," a thriller for young adults.


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