Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-01-30
- Reviewer: Staff
This account of con artists and obsessive revenge is replete with dramatic twists and turns. With a fierce work ethic, 54-year-old Texas Panhandle rancher J. Frank Norfleet had accumulated a small fortune by 1919, but he lost it in a stock swindle run by Big Joe Furey’s gang of con men. In the opening chapter, Reading outlines in detail the psychological manipulations that led Norfleet to fall for the swindle, and she follows with a chapter on the origins and history of confidence men. Sensing the indifference of law enforcement officials, Norfleet resolved to track down the swindlers himself, and succeeded. With the con men finally behind bars, Norfleet became a celebrity and borrowed the style of dime novels to write his 1924 autobiography, Norfleet: The Actual Experiences of a Texas Rancher’s 30,000-Mile Transcontinental Chase After Five Confidence Men, a key source for Reading, who in her first book delivers vibrant characterizations based on her research in archives, scrapbooks, newspapers, and government documents. This narrative of vigilante justice flows like fiction, as con artistry is illuminated throughout, with resonance in today’s world of high-tech con artistry. Agent: Simon Lipskar, Writers House. (Mar. 7)
Revenge on the big con
Hollywood surely will be calling for the movie rights: The Mark Inside is a natural for an adaptation to the big screen. Author Amy Reading has written a page-turner about the true story of a Texas rancher who loses his life savings to a group of con men, and seeks revenge by turning the con on them.
It’s the story of J. Frank Norfleet, who strolled into Dallas one day in 1919 to sell a plot of land, only to lose all his money in a stock market swindle. Five con men pick Norfleet as their mark, weaving an elaborate trap to persuade him to invest his cash in a phony stock market trade. When it’s all over, Norfleet is cheated out of close to $140,000, the equivalent of nearly $1.7 million in today’s dollars. Embarrassed, angry and depressed, Norfleet doesn’t simply return to his ranch to lick his wounds. He decides to capture the crooks using his own bit of subterfuge. He straps on a sidearm, grabs a suitcase full of disguises and spends four years crossing the country on the trail of the offenders, donning phony beards and colorful costumes as he seeks out his enemies.
Reading, who holds a Ph.D. in American Studies, is adept at tracking down original source material for this real-life story. A key source is Norfleet’s own memoir of the events, but since it seems to contain a number of unlikely happenstances and other exaggerations, Reading finds newspaper articles, police records and legal documents to either set the record straight, or at least offer a different, and more believable, perspective on aspects of the tale. Additionally, she provides readers with some historical background on con artists and fascinating details of how they run their scams.
Reading relishes Norfleet’s entertaining and colorful account of his detective work; though she adds integrity and introspection to the tale, she doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. With her wonderful writing and eye for sensational material, The Mark Inside is a nonfiction book that reads like a work of fiction. Only time will tell whether the movie version will live up to the quality of the book.