Why are we fascinated with con women? How do they manage to scam people so effectively and what are their backstories? This is a playful, fascinating look at a number of female ‘confidence artists’ from the 19th century to recent times. It’s the same kind of style as the author’s previous book, Lady Killers.
I hadn’t heard of any of these women before, so the content was all new to me, except for the part about the Romanovs’ fate (regarding the story of multiple women claiming to be the princess Anastasia). It’s difficult not to feel a little sympathy for them all, because even though they did terrible things, they were from poor or abusive backgrounds, or were suffering from trauma or mental illness, or were frustrated about the power of men in society. We can also secretly admire them for having the boldness, self-belief and skills to successfully – if illegally – gain wealth and power.
My favourite moment of each mini-biography was when their deeds caught up with them, because no one should be allowed to get away with it – although sometimes the punishment didn’t fit the crime, particularly when there wasn’t enough proof. I do think the book became repetitive, as some of the con women had similar stories which were told in similar ways. The scammers which shocked me the most were those who profited from public tragedies, claiming they were survivors or that their families were victims. Somehow this shocked me even more than the inclusion, at the end, of a con woman who became a murderer.
If you’re interested in true crime and don’t want a read that’s too heavy, this is one to consider.
Published in 2021 by Harper Perennial.