Saturday, January 26, 2019

King Con

Title:  King Con:  The Bizarre Adventures of the Jazz Age's Greatest Impostor
Author:  Paul Willetts
Publication Information:  Crown. 2018. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0451495810 / 978-0451495815

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The waiting was almost over."

Favorite Quote:  "Behind his jaunty double-dealing lay a sorrowful recognition that no matter how hard he tried to be someone else, someone worthy of acclaim, he's always be that not good boy from Central Falls."

If I told you this book was fiction, you would totally believe my statement. The misadventures and audacity of Edgar Laplante sound far-fetched and unbelievable except that Edgar Laplante and his escapades were completely real. Dissect the title of this book, and you have the story.

Bizarre:  This word in the title is what makes this book so entertaining to read. Edgar Laplante went from a small time conman to the upper echelons of European aristocracy. His brush with even bigger history came with his relationship with the rising Mussolini regime in Italy. Oddly enough, this book would be "believable" as fiction because what Edgar Laplante managed to "accomplish" was so bizarre.

Adventures:  Reading "crimes" for "adventures" would be a correct interpretation. Edgar Laplante was a small-time performer and swindler who drifted from town to town, staying one step ahead of the law. His travels took him all over the western United States to Europe and back again. Since there was no instant internet news at that time, stories about his swindles reached his next destinations but late enough for him to stay ahead of the news.

Jazz Age:  The Jazz Age was a period of history from the late 1910s through the Roaring Twenties in the early 1930s. As jazz was born in the United States, the "jazz age" primarily refers to the United States history, music, and culture. The time period enabled Edgar Laplante's act in vaudeville and as a society charmer to flourish. His assumed persona brought a touch of glamour that people gravitated to; that is, until they discovered he was a fraud.

Greatest Impostor:  Edgar Laplante to Tom Longboat ultimately to Chief White Elk. A white man transformed himself into a Native American leader and fooled a lot of people for a long time. In fact, part of his act was to raise awareness and collect funds for Native American causes; the funds, of course, lined his pockets. It brought him travels, wealth, admiration, and even a love of sorts."Greatest" is an epithet added by the author; I leave it to you to read and determine if you agree.

I had never heard of Edgar Laplante before. Search the name now, and most of the hits point towards this book. According to his website, the author learned the beginnings of this story while browsing the online catalog of Britain’s National Archives. (Who knew that was even possible!)

Since all the players in this story are long deceased, the research conducted was through archival sources. Interestingly, because Edgar Laplante ran afoul of the law, bureaucratic police records provide a wealth of information for this book. The research that went into the book is evident from the detailed accounts presented. The writing itself though reads like fiction and tells a story. Creating that story is an accomplishment since the primary research is based on police records and journalistic accounts not filled with personal details. My key lesson from reading this book is that truth absolutely can be stranger than fiction.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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