Even the title Con Ed is a bit of a con as it is not, as one may want to believe, about Con Ed the power company. Instead this is a thriller about ex-con con artist Kip Largo who sets up another game to get the money he needs to pay back the Russian mob and thus save his son’s life. Kip Largo knows if you are going to run a con, you better know your game and your mark. Author Matthew Klein knows his con games and how to write a fun read so here the reader is not left holding the bag.

Kip Largo grew into the business of being a confidence man and almost had it all when he got greedy with his last scheme, a deal a meal type card game, and went to jail. Con Ed opens with Largo working at a dry cleaners and trying the straight life. His estranged son Toby is in financial trouble with the mob and just when Kip needs a way to find some serious dough a hot looking blonde walks into his life with the objective of getting him to run a scam on her husband. Then, an old acquaintance and partner in crime resurfaces just in time. Coincidence? This is another reason Con Ed is an interesting read as the main character early on confides in the reader he has the suspicious feeling something else is going on.

One of the reasons Con Ed works is Matthew Klein has obviously done his research so you really believe Kip Largo is who he says he is. Klein has Largo drop stories about various cons to, early on, prove his credentials, and, later on entertain the reader. The author manages to do this smoothly so you never get the feeling Klein is being didactic or padding the book; he’s just telling his mark what he wants to hear.

The con Kip Largo wants to pull on big fish casino owner Ed Napier is a modern day variant on the telegraphed raced results con of the turn of the last century. This time fancy looking computers -Largo really tells his geeks he just wants a room with a whole bunch on computers with lots of blinking lights– replace the telegraph and the stock market replaces the race results.

Largo’s weakness is his son, Toby, who is basically a goof who thinks he is way smarter than he is. Con Ed’s weakness is the chapter where Matthew Klein talks about Silicon Valley. There is something rather dated about the information as if this seemingly modern day novel took place before the internet bubble burst of a few years ago.

Once you get past that short part of a chapter though you start believing again and that, as the book says, is the mark of a good con. There are even some pretty funny bits such as when Largo discovers, as he suspected, that his landlord was being scammed by his son in law: “Some people are so lousy they try to steal from their own family. … Everybody’s conning everybody else. I’m the only one scrupulous enough to make an honest living at it.”

Con Ed gets even more interesting as the con on Ed Napier starts picking up steam and you slowly realize Largo and Klein, who had been pretty up front about things, sometimes withhold information for a while and may be withholding more than you know so your feeling of being an insider in the game slowly goes away. It seems Largo has the feeling he is being conned.

This first novel by Matthew Klein is a good read. The ending will certainly please even the most difficult reader. Unfortunately and due to the nature of this thriller this is not a book you will probably want to read again: once you’ve seen how the magician gets the rabbit out of the hat you never fall for it again. On the brighter side Klein is certainly going to write a few more and you, and I, can always look forward to those.

Con Ed
Matthew Klein
Warner Books 2007
286 pages

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