A victim turns the tables on con men
Author Amy Reading discusses her new book 'The Mark Inside,' which details the story of a Texas rancher who got his revenge on a gang of grifters.
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A: It never begins with an all-out pitch for the mark's greediness. We're all on guard for something for nothing. So the swindler would invite the mark to help out with a gesture of friendship or philanthropy; it isn't initially a call to join something illegal.
The more the mark gets reeled into the con, the more there are these winks and nods about the legality or morality of the situation. The more he drawn in, the fewer chances he has to speak up and ask questions.
At some point, the mark is invited to join something that he thinks has been rigged in his favor and he can't possibly lose. It's done so gradually that it's never seen as magical or impossible money. It's got to seem rational or plausible.
Q: What makes this swindled rancher so interesting to you?
He's a hoot. He's a very fallible man who went undercover posed as a mark to outcon his con men. Then he turned his tale into a memoir that itself has layers of meaning that you can get if you scratch at them.
He thought a lot about storytelling. He was a great storyteller, but also came to realize that all storytelling is a kind of swindle. All narrative participates in the logic of the con in some degree, and you can see it in mine as well. You release information at certain points and bring the reader along, which is not so different from telling the tale to the mark to get them to react at certain key moments. I think he appreciated that.
Q: Without giving away what he does to get back at the men who conned him, would you say his revenge is delicious?
A: His revenge is on his own terms.
In the script, the last scene is where he is supposed to slink home and never speak out of what just happened out of shame and fear that he might be prosecuted.
But he rewrites the story that he finds himself in and reverses everything. It grows bigger and bigger, but he retains control.
The swindlers get hoisted on their own petard, but not without complications. There's conning and re-conning that goes on. These are people who are quite good at turning tables, and to catch them he had to learn their logic and learn this script of the con, and learn the way whole towns were fixed up with law enforcement so the con could unfold without rippling the municipal waters.
He becomes the ultimate spieler. And then he went on for the rest of his long life to tell this story over and over again.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor correspondent.