Review - CHASING THE ACE, Nicholas J Johnson
"The Honest Conman" (aka Nicholas J Johnson) used to do a warning segment on scams and frauds on ABC Local Radio, but it was a pleasant surprise to find he'd written a heist / scam novel. Needless to say his debut novel, CHASING THE ACE, reads like the author knows a lot about the subject matter.
Think a dual handed TV's Hustle style scenario in which Joel, a young man with no purpose in life, hooks up with Richard, an older man, experienced in the fine art of scams and swindles. What Joel doesn't realise is that the man he's adopted as his mentor and working partner is sick of the whole thing. Being taken under Richard's wing might turn out to be the break that Joel wanted, or it could turn out to be a disaster. Nobody's going to know until the end of the novel (and maybe not even then).
Reading somewhere between a good fun heist novel and a salutory warning manual, CHASING THE ACE is utterly believable. It's also quite touching, with both of these characters being flawed, a little bit sad and lonely. Granted Joel does eventually get a girlfriend, although his attitude about her needs some adjustment (it's downright off).
It's not just about these two characters though. Joel has a family and a difficult relationship with a mother who's not been backward in getting her hands on compensation money that's really Joel's. He's got more respect for his stepfather and stepsister, although the family situation overall is tricky. Richard has friends, and a long history of being mentored and mentoring another young man. There's history about him that's revealed (mostly via third parties) along the way. Luckily, despite a slightly strained relationship, Joel has found out enough about Richard to be there when the going gets tough, but the final twist and turns are less expected.
Now having compared CHASING THE ACE to Hustle, it's only fair to warn potential readers that there's nothing glamorous about most of the scams pulled here. It's all a bit tawdry really, but keep an eye out for the twist in the tail of a few of them. There are actually a lot of twists and turns here, all ending up with an obvious intent to carry on the story of a scam merchant.
You'd be almost tempted to get people to read CHASING THE ACE if only as a warning about the sorts of scams and tricks being perpetrated in the real world. Doesn't hurt that it's an entertaining read along the way.
Friendship and fraud is a dangerous mix
Joel Fitch has watched every twist-happy movie there is about con men, and he thinks he knows it all. After nineteen years of being a sucker, Joel’s going to take everything he’s learned from the screen and finally get his. He’s going to be a master con artist.
Richard Mordecai is a real-life swindler. But unlike Joel, he knows the truth about con men. At the end of a long career of lies and betrayal, Richard is tired and jaded. He’s ready to retire.
Until he meets Joel.
They form an uneasy partnership and Joel soon finds himself thrust into a world of bottom dealers, fraudsters and ace chasers that’s unlike any movie he’s ever seen. And when the pair accidentally scam the wrong mark, they have to draw on every last trick and piece of cunning they can to get themselves free and walk away with the money … and hopefully their dignity.