Book Review: True Crime

The Best New True Crime Stories – Well-mannered Crooks, Rogues & Criminals

Edited by Mitzi Szereto 

I received a review copy in exchange for an honest review. 

I’m not one for gory detail, but I was drawn to this collection since I have a soft spot for well-mannered crooks as my own uncle was of a similar ilk. I found this collection of fourteen true stories about such creative criminals where only four starred women in leading roles – perhaps some work is still needed in that area – to be well researched.

The first story, Uncle Freddie and Gentleman John Dillinger, brought me close up and familiar since the narrator was also talking about his own uncle and brought me into an Elliot Ness kind of world with speakeasies and prohibition. As an Australian, I had heard of The Aussie Larrikin, Alan Bond, but never the details of his rise, fall and rise. The story about a woman pirate, Ching Shih, who dominated the South China Sea in the 19th Century was a fascinating account of a woman making it in a man’s world on her own, sometimes bloodier-than-thou, terms. Several of these crooks also had a philosophical bent that could apply today: “All the people I swindled had one thing in common- greed,” says The Yellow Kid in the tale, “They wanted something for nothing”: The Many Cons of the Yellow Kid.

Tales in the not-so-distant past like A One-Way Ticket to Poyais take the reader further afield, to South America or an imaginary land where the ego of a scamming perpetrator could be fed. Closer to home, the American Dream and the financial crisis of the 80s and being laid off made a man turn to a life of banditry. And then back to Europe, France to be exact, to Champs-Elysees Noir, with female swindlers, notably one Domenica, collector of art, husbands and lovers, and scandals reaching to the top of the French Government. Then a 20th Century Robin Hood in the oligarchy of Ecuador, The Bandolero Lojano, before returning to the US and The Tragedy of the King of Atlantic City. 

The Prince of Swindlers straddles continents, Europe in England, Australia and South Africa as a bogus physician, living a long life and even being confused with Jack the Ripper. Back to the US with an Agatha Christie-type take in The Socialite´s Poisonous Plight in the early 20th Century, followed by a Mafioso-type tale, The Monk, The Brain and the “Marlborough Diamond” to approach a conclusion in present-day India with The Bombay Grandmother, to finally end back in France at the end of the 19th Century with The Count if Blinville: The Illusive Lives of Charles Marchandon.

These tales were all well researched and well written, but the added diversity of epochs and countries gave an interesting perspective of geographic and political instruction where not just history, but stories and their needs forever repeat themselves. I just needed to open my eyes; however, seduced by these creative crooks I never saw what was coming, which made for a satisfying read.