The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente — New Review

I don’t often read crime fiction, I tend to listen to audiobooks, but I was intrigued by The Con Artist both because of the setting (San Diego comic-con) and the blurb. Not only does The Con Artist contain illustrations, but those illustrations contain clues to the detective story! That sounded like a neat gimmick, so I was excited to give it a go.

Catching a ride from the airport with one of my own characters would ordinarily qualify as strange, except that fiction starts devouring reality pretty much as soon as you step off the plan at San Diego International Airport during the week of comic-con.

— The Con Artist, Fred Van Lente

I don’t really know what to say about the plot of The Con Artist. It was… fine. It took a while to get going, but I did feel quite caught up in the narrative once the actual crime was committed and the detection started. Sadly, I felt kind of let down by the clues – both illustrated and otherwise. The clues in the drawings are there, but are often so hidden as to be difficult to spot even once you know what they are. Similarly, the clues in the narrative don’t jump out as clues until you already know the part they’re going to play. I didn’t feel like the red herrings were particularly well handled. The narrative called attention to them, so they served as distractions, but there was no other reason for them to exist.

The characters were similarly not quite working for me. I think they were probably meant to be ‘larger than life’, to fit the comic-con theme, but as a result none of them felt quite real. Even at emotional moments, I just didn’t feel that impact. I guess my overall feeling is that The Con Artist was interesting enough, as contemporary fiction, but it wasn’t a very strong detective story.

I’ve never been to a convention, so maybe The Con Artist works better if you recognise the world its describing. I doubt it, because even as someone who hasn’t been to a con, I occasionally felt like I was having things explained to me that I already knew.

Next, I’ll be reading Read Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch — Firm Favourite


The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of those books I’ve loved for so long that I don’t even remember how I found out about it. It originated my love of fantasy heists. I read a quotation once, about how a book is made up of character, prose and plot. A good book will excel at one of those, a great book might excel at two and a masterpiece has all three in spades. For me, The Lies of Locke Lamora is that masterpiece.

He wasn’t training us for a calm and orderly world where we could pick and choose when we needed to be clever. He was training us for a situation that was fucked up on all sides. Well, we’re in it, and I say we’re equal to it. I don’t need to be reminded that we’re up to our heads in dark water. I just want you boys to remember that we’re the gods-damned sharks.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

I’ve previously described the plot, in the broadest possible terms, as ‘Ocean’s Eleven set in fantasy Venice’. That captures some of the flavour, but fails to really do the story justice. In the opening chapters, Scott Lynch masterfully juggles at least four different timelines without ever being confusing. He cuts away from the action at the most exciting moment, only to plunge you into another part of the story which you’re just as eager to read about. Loads of stuff happens in The Lies of Locke Lamora, but these carefully-paced ‘interludes’ keep it from feeling relentless.

World-building isn’t mentioned as one of the three things every masterpiece must have, but nonetheless it shines in The Lies of Locke Lamora. Camorr is gritty and dark, but also spectacularly beautiful. Similarly, it is peopled with genuine bastards but also gentlemen thieves that I, at least, fell completely in love with. (Jean Tannen earns his place in the list of steadfast fantasy companions alongside Samwise Gamgee and Neville Longbottom.) I’m not usually one for long descriptions of scenery, and yet I never find myself bored when Scott Lynch dives deep into the detail of the world he has built. I’m particularly fascinated by the religion in these books. It’s woven through so sparingly, it leaves me desperate for there to be more.

I’ve hinted at the character aspect of this novel above. The relationship between Jean and Locke is one of my favourite in anything. The weaving of past and present narratives give you the opportunity to really follow these characters for longer than the duration of the novel. If you’ve ever read a review of The Lies of Locke Lamora, you’ll know that Scott Lynch reduces most fans to gasps and tears with the fates of some of those characters.1 I don’t so often see people talk about how The Lies of Locke Lamora makes them laugh, but at least in my case it reliably does.

Damn, but the boy seemed to be constitutionally incapable of remaining in high places for any length of time.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

As I was reading, I found myself thinking a lot about trust. I trust Scott Lynch as an author. (There are some things in later books that I’m unsure about, but at least for the moment I trust that he’ll pull them off well.) I trust that The Thorn of Emberlain (book four in the series) will eventually come out, and that it will be worth the wait when it does.

I’d recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora to anyone who liked Six of Crows or A Darker Shade of Magic. Do be warned, the book is at times quite graphically violent and deeply nasty. There’s a lot of swearing, too. I wouldn’t say those are elements that attract me to books normally, but The Lies of Locke Lamora is still one of my favourite books of all time, so don’t let it put you off too much.

1 If this is your first: yes, I gasped and cried too.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Next in the series: Red Sea under Red Skies.