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The Last Con Paperback – July 7, 2015
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'The Last Con spans centuries of mystery surrounding the relics of the Knights of Malta. It is rich in legend, deceit and thievery, alongside a story of family, grace and forgiveness. The struggle between doing what is right and doing what you want resonates. The characters are both lovable and frustrating, and always highly relatable. And of course, Bartels throws in a twist at the end that will leave readers stunned.' - RT Book Reviews (Romantic Times Book Reviews)
About the Author
Zachary Bartels is the author of Playing Saint . An award-winning preacher and Bible teacher, he serves as pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Lansing, MI, where he lives with his wife Erin and their son. You can find him online at www.zacharybartels.com. Facebook: AuthorZacharyBartels Twitter: AuthorZBartels
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Things take a turn for the worst for Fletcher when he is sucked back into his old life as a con man. As things spiral out of control and the delicate threads of trust he’s rebuilt with his wife and daughter begin to fray, Fletcher realizes that he must find a way to shake his past before it destroys him and his family.
Into this toxic mix of shaken loyalties, past sins, and broken promises steps the Alchemist, a shadowy figure who wants something only Fletcher Doyle has the skill to find. As events take an unexpected and terrifying turn Fletcher finds himself involved in the biggest con of his life, a con which began long ago and far away in the evil machinations of one of the world’s most infamous con men, Count Cagliostro of the Knights of Malta.
In this transcontinental mystery thriller author Zachary Bartels writes a sizzling tale of ancient and modern con men in a desperate search for one of the most sought after treasures of the enlightenment period.
Best mystery thriller I’ve read this year!
Fletcher, an ex-con and grifter, has been out of jail for just a short time. His family is still adjusting from the shock of his arrest and incarceration as well as their change in finances and home. Trust is a big issue, but Fletcher, his wife Meg and daughter Ivy are really trying to make their new normal work. But . . . with the addition of a concerned neighbor/landlord and temptations from his former life, Fletcher must decide just what is important and true.
I really liked Fletcher, the grifter who can’t decide if he grifted himself when it comes to his faith in Christ. Even before he gets involved with another con, Fletcher struggles with walking in faith without the rules of prison. A life in Christ is about freedom — from sin, from guilt, but also the freedom to make choices. Although most readers don’t struggle with returning to a life of crime😉, they will identify with the struggle of discerning God’s will and following it. Paul puts it this way in Romans 7:19 — For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. That’s Fletcher’s struggle as it is my own. Godly sorrow vs. worldly sorrow is also examined. The Last Con is also a great suspense novel — lots of shady and sinister actors, tense scenes involving breaking and entering, and a really good game of cat and mouse. You’ll never see the ending coming either. There is also a historical feature, including ancient Knights, kings, queens, and lost treasure, that intersects with the modern day story. There is enough truth in the story that it will make you wonder what if.
The Last Con is a safe bet for those who love suspense. You can’t lose with this one!
(Thanks to the publisher for a review copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)
The Review: The Last Con by Zach Bartels is like a great heist movie. The characters are interesting and likeable. The background of the “Macguffin” is interesting. The action is fast-paced and thrilling. As the reader, you’re happily munching popcorn as you follow the adventure. This book has all the necessary elements for this kind of story: the set-up, the small heist, the complication, the big heist, the plan breaking down, the shocking reveal. That’s not to say the book is formulaic–at least, not in a negative way. If the book follows tropes, it does so only to suddenly shift your expectations. You realize at a few key points that you’ve been duped as well. While the ending of the book wasn’t a complete surprise, that’s only because I had about 5 different theories in my head about who the “big bad” was. Still, I was not disappointed at all with how the book resolved.
Bartels has created a caper that could easily work on-screen, though such an adaptation would probably lose the fascinating historical elements of the story. There are actually two main narratives at work: Fletcher’s story and the history of Count Cagliostro, a legendary (and infamous) master thief and con-man from the era of the French Revolution. (I’ll leave you to find out how the two stories intersect.) I don’t want to say anything else about the plot because I’d hate to spoil anything else.
Another satisfying element to this novel is how the themes of redemption and identity are woven throughout the story. It’s almost as if you as the reader fall for the misdirection of the “heist” narrative, until you suddenly recognize the spiritual themes unfolding before you. Just as with Mike Dellosso’s Centralia, the book avoids the preachiness that sometimes plagues Christian fiction, while still presenting Biblical truth in a moving way. So it’s not an evangelistic book, as such, though it could provoke some Gospel conversations for those with ears to hear.
A quick note on “content”: Unlike mainstream crime/caper novels, this one avoids lewd sexual content and profane language. The violence is clear but understated, aside from a few brief descriptions of fatal head-shots. The only notes I’d make on coarse language are one use of a coarse slang term and one instance of innuendo–but nothing overt or gratuitous. Just wanted to mention it for those who would share this book with kids/teens.
Final Verdict: The Last Con by Zachary Bartels is great fun. Definitely worth a read if you’re looking for the literary equivalent of Oceans Eleven or The Sting or another film of that type. It’s available now at Amazon and other retailers, and would be a perfect “end of summer” read.
Please Note: I was provided a physical copy of the book by the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. The preceding thoughts are wholly my own.