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The Con Artist

The Con ArtistThe Con Artist by Fred Van Lente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Fred Van Lente’s debut comedic mystery novel, 2017’s 10 DEAD COMEDIANS, but THE CON ARTIST finds the author fully in his element. (Although Dante Dupree from 10 DEAD COMEDIANS is name-checked in THE CON ARTIST, which I guess puts both novels in the same…Van Lenteverse?) A murder mystery set at a nerdy convention isn’t exactly a new concept (Sharyn McCrumb’s 1988 BIMBOS OF THE DEATH SUN comes to mind, as does Nick Mamatas’s 2016 I AM PROVIDENCE), but what makes THE CON ARTIST special is its insider’s view of San Diego Comic-Con. (Van Lente himself has been a comic book professional for decades and is no stranger to comics conventions.)

The mystery is more grounded this time around, with less of a ticking clock, which allows the reader plenty of opportunities to soak in the narrator’s observations about the convention, which I suspect are not all that different from Van Lente’s own. Some of those observations are quite funny, such as the breakdown of the five categories of people the artists in Comic-Con’s Artists Alley regularly have to interact with, while others are more poignant or disturbing, like the trajectory that can gradually transform a fan who loves comics more than anything into someone who harasses comics creators online with insults and death threats.

THE CON ARTIST is a fun, quick read with a compelling mystery and a singular and truly enjoyable insider’s POV. Mystery readers will be entertained, but if you’re also into comic books you’ll definitely get something extra out of it.

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