by Frank W. Abagnale Jr. & Stan Redding
Frank Abagnale Jr. was just a high school dropout when he dedicated his life to swindling others. Over the course of five years, he passed $2.5 million in fraudulent checks, impersonated a Pan Am pilot, and worked in a hospital as a resident supervisor. But Abagnale’s bad behavior doesn’t go unnoticed by the authorities, and they’re on his tail, trying to capture the renegade thief before he pulls off the next big con.
I had discovered Frank Abagnale’s story several years back when Leonardo DiCaprio played him in a movie version. I never actually saw the film, but I made a mental note to look up the story at some future point. It lingered at the back of my mind for nearly ten years before I finally got around to reading the story.
After finishing the book, my first thought was, “Wow, this is simply unbelievable.” I didn’t mean it that as “Wow, I can’t believe he was able to con so many people – that’s amazing!” My reaction was more along the lines of “I don’t think this is 100% true.” If even half of the crimes Abagnale claims he committed are true, than he was certainly a very resourceful and clever young man. I don’t dispute that. But the way his adventures are structured seems totally artificial. It seemed like every time the story threatened to end, a miraculous intervention would allow Abagnale to escape to the next adventure. I have a really hard time believing that all of his cons went so smoothly. When he’s captured towards the end of the book, he describes a hell-like period of his life when he was trapped in a French prison. It sounded pretty horrific – almost too awful to be believed. I wondered if perhaps he’d read a few too many Dumas novels and borrowed some memories from The Count of Monte Cristo. But maybe his stay was really that bad – French prisons are still heavily criticized for inhumane conditions. But Abagnale was a con artist, and a very good one – so I just don’t know that I can trust the narrative.
But whether or not I think this is fiction or non-fiction, it was a very entertaining story. Abagnale’s capers would be impossible to pull off today – I think 21st century technology has pretty efficiently killed off the loopholes that enabled him to impersonate and pass fraudulent checks – but new cons are always popping up, and Abagnale’s memoirs can help readers understand the mindset of such swindlers.
What I really liked about the book, though, was that it really captured a time and place. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to roll my eyes every time he referred to a woman as a ‘fox’ – but it worked. He had the slang of mid-century America down pat, and the conversational style of the book made it read like some 1960s hipster kid gleefully sharing his exploits over a series of cocktails. It really has the makings of a fun summer blockbuster – so after initially being inspired to find the book because of the movie adaptation, the book has convinced me that I want to see the movie.
3 out of 5 stars
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