13 February 2012

Flim-Flam or Con Artist

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

For some strange reason I seem to like con artists. Not the ones who set up older people and cheat them out of money.  I mean the guys like Robert Redford and Paul Newman in The Sting. The con to set up bad guys who've wronged people and need to be taken.

The brilliance of a good con is intriguing.  I watched an old Law and Order TV show the other day. It was probably was filmed in the early 2000s. The con was amazing, however, the con artist were not nice people and the people they were cheating were nice people.  And unsuspecting. The story involved two people who had a lot of money.  They were both married, but not to each other.  They were both married to flim-flam artists.  The rich lady had been raped and almost killed.  In fact, she was paralyzed on one side.  Her husband was not suspected at the time and he was very supportive and solitious of her. He was the con man.

As the detectives investigated they discovered another lady living nearby who also had been attacked. Her husband was out of town and he was not a suspect.  She was the con artist.  The two cons set up a lock-smith guy to take the fall. The locksmith had installed new locks on the doors of each residence. When all that failed and the investigation led to the discovery that the con man and woman had been convicted of fraud on Canada and they had different names, the police were charging that the marriages of the two con artist to the rich man and woman were invalid because the cons used fake names.  The DA wanted the rich man and woman to testify against the con artist.  The cons lawyer said they couldn't testify against their spouses. The cons lawyer then gave the DA copies of the both con artists having legally changed their names to the phony ones they were using prior to all this.

The con artist each confessed to their spouse all their previous misdeeds and confessed also to their current misdeeds and the rich man and the rich woman each forgave the con person they were married to and that settled it. Both rich people were in love with their spouses and couldn't believe any of this was just to obtain their money.

Now I won't tell you how the DA and the investigators managed to right this horrible wrong because that would be a spoiler and you might have a chance to see the old episode and you don't want the answer revealed, do you?  (Ok, if you're dying to know, you can e-mail me at Jangrape@aol.com .)

My first thought was whoever wrote this screen play was really an excellent writer.  I don't know who it was because like most of us I don't pay a lot of attention to who the writer is.  Well, maybe I pay more attention than most people because I am a writer and I do have some interest. But I don't remember who the author was and if it had been someone I had heard of or knew about, I might remember.

My next thought was the fact that the story was very entertaining and intriguing.  There were so many twists and turns that everytime the DA thought he had the con artist "dead to rights," they had an answer. Their lawyer was able to produce conflicting evidence and keep his clients out of jail.

As mystery writers we can learn a lot from such programs.  Unfortunately, so many TV shows and movie plots are so full of plot holes that you almost run from the room screaming.  All of us, writers and readers alike really enjoy a good plot.  We like to try to figure out the "mystery," to solve the case along with the detective. I think we can all agree that if we can paint our protagonist into a corner which seems to have no way out, then we have a good story going. The reader had to keep pealing back the layers until they get to the end.

I'll admit that I'm not always the best at plotting.  I think my strongest point is characters.  I enjoy developing good, well-rounded believable characters and hope that my readers like them enough to keep reading even if they figure out "whodunit" by mid-book.  I wish I could plot better and I'm hoping that I can learn more as I continue this journey into the writing game.

But I'll just have to confess that a good flim-flam artist story is one of my favorite reads and I also admit that a good con man is fascinating.  Or maybe it's just Redford and Newman that intrigues me.


  1. "A good con man is fascinating." Jan, this is true and I believe I know why. They intentionally tell a person exactly what that person wants to hear. This is also somewhat related to the "bad boy" attraction some women have that is written about in so many books. SS blogs are reminding me of lots of events that could become Creative Writing short stories. Watch out for a new story from me about a con man who is out-conned by a sweet school teacher. Now, if I can just find time to write it!

  2. Nice article, Jan.

    One of my favorite TV shows was "Switch," which for a very short run in the mid-1970s featured Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner. The premise of the show -- at least before it descended into a procedural series in an attempt to widen its audience -- was that Albert and Wagner headed up a detective agency that specialized in out-scamming the con artists. The early episodes are highly recommended if you happen to catch them in (ancient) repeats.

  3. I think you really hit on something, Jan, when you said you liked to see the con being pulled on bad guys.

    I suspect that angle opens a story to a much wider audience -- vs. stories where "mom & pop" get taken to the cleaners.

    There are great books like The Grifters out there, which do a wonderful job of revealing the gritty underside of being on the con. I loved The Grifters, but have spoken to some folks who found it too hard to stomach.

    On the other hand, I suspect a story like The Sting achieved its immense popularity by capitalizing on the innate sense of “playing a practical joke” involved in con work. And, I think the humor in The Sting lent itself well to this viewpoint.

    I wonder if we like confidence game stories for the same reason magicians are so popular: Both involve a certain “slight of hand,” and we love to see the trick pulled and mind-boggling things happen.

    Thanks for the article: I never would have thought about this stuff, if I hadn’t read what you’d written.

  4. Speaking of clever plots on t.v., I got to watch a bunch of episodes of "Crazy Like A Fox" this weekend.The show was funny and well-done and the mystery plots hold up very well. (How does a man hide nearly a million dollars in prison and get awaqy with it?? It's in the pilot episode!) Don't think they had a con job plot on the show though.

  5. (grumble) Now I'm anxious to know how they L&O people resolved the injustice. Hmm…


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