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Matchstick Men: A Novel of Petty Crimes Hardcover – December 3, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
If you're a con artist, is there anyone you can trust? That's the question for the protagonists of this stylish but somewhat hollow novel by Garcia (Anonymous Rex). Roy is a careful, fiscally prudent and emotionally barren con man suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder-really suffering, now that his psychiatrist has left town and Roy has run out of his medication. Frankie, his partner, spends wildly and always wants to pull just one more scam. The trouble begins when Frankie introduces Roy to Dr. Klein, a well-meaning psychiatrist who aims to do more than merely dispense pills and who ends up reuniting Roy with the daughter he never knew he had. Fourteen-year-old Angela is far from angelic as she worms her way into Roy's life (not unlike Tatum O'Neal's character in the movie Paper Moon, but without her sheen of innocence). Set in an unnamed American city and told in clipped, streetwise prose, the novel is ingeniously plotted (the ending is a real surprise), though the scams themselves aren't as clever as one might hope. More seriously, in spite of the detailed descriptions of their neuroses, Roy and Frankie are underdeveloped; Roy delivers a few funny interior monologues, and there's some crackling dialogue, but these bad guys don't quite gel into memorable characters. The title apparently refers to a slang term for con men, but reading about Roy and Frankie, one can't help thinking of its other association: stick figures.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
On the basis of his first two novels, Casual Rex and Anonymous Rex, Garcia established himself as a cult favorite. For his third outing, he sheds the dinosaur trappings to deliver a straightforward variation on The Sting that combines elements of The Odd Couple and Paper Moon to create what could be his breakout book. Matchstick men are con artists, represented here by Roy and Frankie, two masters of "the game." With the easy facility of a veteran vaudeville team, they hone their various routines, making sure to keep their private lives separate. Roy is the obsessive one of the pair, forever swallowing pills to stabilize his disorders, zoning in on the dirt that lurks in the carpet, and squirreling away his share of the team's take. Frankie scatters his money freely and is constantly on the prowl for more of everything. When Roy discovers that he is the father of a 14-year-old daughter who is interested in the family business, it just might be the wedge that drives the team apart. By the time the final con is played, we recognize that we're in the hands of yet another master of "the game." The film adaptation starring Nicholas Cage and directed by Ridley Scott, scheduled for release next summer, should serve to hype what is already a winner. For all public libraries.
Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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Unfortunately I found that this novel is all about the plot, and the character development lacks. The main character, Roy, is the only individual who really gets fleshed out at all, and his character seems to deviate heavily from neurotic and crazy to calm, collected, and "normal." I found the transitions between his behaviors jarring; there didn't seem to be enough indication of his issues throughout the majority of his narrative.
However, despite the lack of memorable and interesting characters, the plot is still well developed, and if you haven't seen the movie, I think you'll be quite satisfied with the direction the story takes. With that said... I recommend seeing the movie, which in a rare turn of events, I find is better than the book.
As an additional note: I picked up the Kindle edition and it is riddled with typos. I normally don't get too bothered by such things, but it became somewhat distracting as I kept reading.
Author Eric Garcia does a fine job describing the cons and making Roy sympathetic even as he systematically steals thousands of dollars from people who can ill-afford to lose their money. Roy's occasional attacks of ethics, and his growing affection for his daughter, as well as his emotional problems with obsessive compulsion disorder give him a degree of complexity.
The key characteristic of a good con is that the mark doesn't see it coming. Readers may fault MATCHSTICK MEN in this. The plot may twist and turn, but the destination is telegraphed early. Few fans of the genre are likely to be surprised by the ending of this novel.
What will happen next? The plot takes a number of surprising twists and turns and carries you along, unable to put the book down, until the surprise ending that blew me away. While some of the reviewers found the ending obvious, I must be a good "mark" because I fell for it completely.
This book is not for everyone. It is not uplifting or redeeming. It is about some very bad people doing very bad things, but it is extremely well-written, fast-moving, entertaining and engaging. It has a lot of interesting information about scams and flimflams. Sometimes it is funny. But nothing like dinosaurs. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.