Richard Wormser (1908-1977) is another one of those authors who transitioned seamlessly from writing fiction for the pulp magazines to authoring page-turning novels at the advent of the paperback originals in the 1950s. Under his own name, crime and mystery was his primary bread-and-butter, but he also wrote Westerns under the pen name Ed Friend. Today, the focus is on his 1963 Fawcett Gold Medal crime novel Perfect Pigeon, which remains available as a $4 ebook - free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.
As the novel opens, our narrator Mark Daniels has just completed a six-year stretch in the penitentiary for bank embezzlement. Daniels is a smart guy and the law never recovered the $250,000 he stole from the bank. His nonsense story was that the money was stolen from Mark after he fell asleep on a bus and no one could prove otherwise. Now a free man, Mark could sure use to get his hands on the stash of stolen dough. After all, he served six years for the right to enjoy that money, right? The problem is that Mark promised himself he’d wait three years before tapping into his cache of cash. Let the heat die down. Let the world forget.
Mark meets a hot chick named Columba (it’s Latin for pigeon) and beds her down to get back in the swing of things. He falls hard for her, but she’s gone like Cinderella after their motel date is over. Mark makes plans to find her again once he has some working capital. When she reappears later in the novel, it’s pure gold.
The job prospects for an ex-con are limited, and it’s not like Mark can go back to work as a bank teller. As such, he needs to support himself as a con-artist wracking up enough scores to keep food on the table and a roof over his head until he can access his hidden embezzlement proceeds. If you enjoy con-game stories, you’ll find the grifts in Perfect Pigeon to be quite satisfying.
Mark also falls in with a crew of ex-cons looking to score some cash by orchestrating some low-level scams. The problem is that these guys are hard-cases, and Mark is a white-collar kind of thief. The bigger problem is that the crew - and everyone else - believes that Mark has a quarter-million bucks squirreled away somewhere, and this molds the decisions that people make throughout the novel when interacting with Mark.
I wasn’t expecting Perfect Pigeon to be funny, but Mark - and, I can only assume, the author - are often hilarious. Moreover, Wormser is an all-around excellent writer who plotted this story like a roller coaster ride. The ending was a great twist that I should have seen coming but failed to recognize the clues.
Perfect Pigeon is one of the finest con-man novels I’ve read in ages. There are some slow parts, but it was an overall satisfying read at a nice price. Recommended.
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