Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Grifters & Swindlers: edited by Cynthia Manson

Grifters & Swindlers is a collection of 17 short stories taken from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The stories all center on tricksters and con artists who are plotting to cheat someone of their money or valuables. Like most short story collections, there were several stories I liked a lot, some stories that seemed predictable, and the rest were in between.


All of the stories were well worth reading. My favorites in the collection:

The selection by William Campbell Gault, "The Cackle Bladder", was very close to the final con in the movie The Sting, except it had a different twist. Of course, Gault wrote his story in 1950, years before The Sting was produced.

This is what Publisher's Weekly had to say about this story:
William Campbell Gault's 1950 "The Cackle Bladder'" will appeal to readers who relished the central setup of the 1973 movie, The Sting , except that Gault's description of the phony betting parlor, the characters and the scam are even more vivid.
David Morrell's story, "The Partnership", concerns two partners in a contracting firm who can't get along and scheme to get rid of each other. I liked this one because the ending was truly surprising and entertaining.

My absolute favorite story in the book was by Robert Halsted. As "Hostile Takeover" opens, the con artist narrator and Joy Sue have recently escaped from her home town. She is a country girl with little formal education; they form a partnership of sorts. I liked that the story kept me off balance; I could not figure out where it was going or who was up to what. I loved the way the story unfolds and the ending.

A few of the stories in the book were between 20 and 30 pages. Donald Westlake's story,  "Just the Lady We're Looking For", was a very short one at less than 7 pages. It was different and had a nice twist.

The other stories in the collection are:

  • "The Frightening Frammis" by Jim Thompson 
  • "Passing for Love" by Bill Crenshaw 
  • "One of the Oldest Con Games" by Robert L. Fish 
  • "How to Trap a Crook'' by Julian Symons 
  • "The Man Who Flim-flammed Hiwassee County" by William M. Stephens
  • "The Big Bunco" by William Bankier 
  • "Playing it Cool" by Simon Brett 
  • "Thieves' Bazaar'' by W. L. Heath
  • "T'ang of the Suffering Dragon" by James Holding 
  • "The Western Film Scam" by Francis M. Nevins, Jr. 
  • "A Left-handed Profession" by Al Nussbaum
  • "The Messenger" by Jacklyn Butler

The only problem I had with this anthology was reading a lot of stories on the same theme in a relatively short period of time. I think I might have enjoyed some of them more if they had been in a mixed bag of stories with no theme, so that I was not expecting the con (or the twist on the con).


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Publisher:   Carroll & Graf, 1993
Length:       287 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Genre:        Mystery, Short Stories
Source:      I purchased this book.

10 comments:

  1. Oh, this sounds like a great collection, Tracy. I understand what you mean about some stories being better than others; I think a lot of short story collections are like that. But at the same time, this group seems really interesting. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. It was a very good choice, Margot. Just the right length.

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  2. Stories that appeared in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines? Yes, please!

    I'll take your experience as a caveat and read only a couple at a time.

    Thanks for your review!

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    1. I would love to find some of those old magazines to read, Debbie. But this type of anthology is the next best thing.

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  3. So have you tried any of the cons out on anyone yet, Tracy? Great cast of authors, yet not a single story title sounds familiar. Might be just the anthology to add to my little stack of short reads.

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    1. I could never be a con artist, Mathew. I can't act and my feelings are always obvious. Coincidentally, we are watching The Sting tonight.

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  4. Since Cynthia Manson had full access to EQMM & AHMM archives, she was able to put together many very good anthologies, on various themes. This sounds like one of them.

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    1. Richard, I did see some others listed that she had put together (at Amazon - used - and on Goodreads). I will have to follow up on some of them.

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  5. Tracy, this is an eclectic collection of short stories. For some reason I can never read anthologies cover to cover. I usually dip into them as and when I like. I did not know Donald E. Westlake had written short stories.

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    1. Prashant, I don't usually read short stories from one book in a short amount of time (relatively). This one I spent about 5 or 6 weeks on because it was for a Forgotten Friday theme and then got postponed... giving me more time.

      I did not know whether Westlake had written many short stories, so I looked into it. There are a lot listed by him, but the majority were written in the 1950s and 1960s. He started out writing short stories for magazines before he had a novel published.

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