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The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con

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In 1919, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet lost everything he had in a stock market swindle. He did what many other marks did—he went home, borrowed more money from his family, and returned for another round of swindling.     Only after he lost that second fortune did he reclaim control of his story. Instead of crawling back home in shame, he vowed to hunt down the five men In 1919, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet lost everything he had in a stock market swindle. He did what many other marks did—he went home, borrowed more money from his family, and returned for another round of swindling.     Only after he lost that second fortune did he reclaim control of his story. Instead of crawling back home in shame, he vowed to hunt down the five men who had conned him. Armed with a revolver and a suitcase full of disguises, Norfleet crisscrossed the country from Texas to Florida to California to Colorado, posing as a country hick and allowing himself to be ensnared by confidence men again and again to gather evidence on his enemies. Within four years, Frank Norfleet had become nationally famous for his quest to out-con the con men.   Through Norfleet’s ingenious reverse-swindle, Amy Reading reveals the mechanics behind the scenes of the big con—a piece of performance art targeted to the most vulnerable points of human nature. Reading shows how the big con has been woven throughout U.S. history. From the colonies to the railroads and the Chicago Board of Trade, America has always been a speculative enterprise, and bunco men and bankers alike have always understood that the common man was perfectly willing to engage in minor fraud to get a piece of the expanding stock market—a trait that made him infinitely gullible.   Amy Reading’s fascinating account of con artistry in America and Frank Norfleet’s wild caper invites you into the crooked history of a nation on the hustle, constantly feeding the hunger and the hope of the mark inside.


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In 1919, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet lost everything he had in a stock market swindle. He did what many other marks did—he went home, borrowed more money from his family, and returned for another round of swindling.     Only after he lost that second fortune did he reclaim control of his story. Instead of crawling back home in shame, he vowed to hunt down the five men In 1919, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet lost everything he had in a stock market swindle. He did what many other marks did—he went home, borrowed more money from his family, and returned for another round of swindling.     Only after he lost that second fortune did he reclaim control of his story. Instead of crawling back home in shame, he vowed to hunt down the five men who had conned him. Armed with a revolver and a suitcase full of disguises, Norfleet crisscrossed the country from Texas to Florida to California to Colorado, posing as a country hick and allowing himself to be ensnared by confidence men again and again to gather evidence on his enemies. Within four years, Frank Norfleet had become nationally famous for his quest to out-con the con men.   Through Norfleet’s ingenious reverse-swindle, Amy Reading reveals the mechanics behind the scenes of the big con—a piece of performance art targeted to the most vulnerable points of human nature. Reading shows how the big con has been woven throughout U.S. history. From the colonies to the railroads and the Chicago Board of Trade, America has always been a speculative enterprise, and bunco men and bankers alike have always understood that the common man was perfectly willing to engage in minor fraud to get a piece of the expanding stock market—a trait that made him infinitely gullible.   Amy Reading’s fascinating account of con artistry in America and Frank Norfleet’s wild caper invites you into the crooked history of a nation on the hustle, constantly feeding the hunger and the hope of the mark inside.

30 review for The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con

  1. 4 out of 5

    ``Laurie Henderson

    This was an exciting and interesting book to read at first and I learned a lot about the short and long con. The author was very thorough and did a great job documenting the history of con-artists in America, beginning with the colonial days. I had no idea that scams were such a big part of our history. This true story is based on the book by Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet detailing his experiences with con men during the early 1900's. This story begins with the supposedly innocent, Texas ranche This was an exciting and interesting book to read at first and I learned a lot about the short and long con. The author was very thorough and did a great job documenting the history of con-artists in America, beginning with the colonial days. I had no idea that scams were such a big part of our history. This true story is based on the book by Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet detailing his experiences with con men during the early 1900's. This story begins with the supposedly innocent, Texas rancher, taking his money to town to buy land resulting in him being bilked out of everything he owns by professional con-artists. I'll have to admit these con men were extremely talented at their work and I can see how anyone would have fallen for their get rich quick schemes. But as the story progresses I began to doubt Norfleet was as innocent as he proclaimed himself to be as only an extremely greedy or ignorant person would have gone along with this con to begin with; and Norfleet was definitely not ignorant. Norfleet continues to present himself as a victim and vows to find these men and put an end to their dishonest career. He tells of his trek all over the country as he methodically hunts them down and exposes them for what they really are. His search finally lead him to the upper echelon of conmen and their complicated empire of crime. His task was often difficult as some of the law officers in large cities had been bought off by the kingpins of crime but Norfleet continued to hunt them down. Norfleet seems to thoroughly enjoy his newfound fame and after writing his autobiography plans to produce a movie based on his life with himself in the starring role. The more I read of this book the less I believed anything Norfleet had to say but his tale was certainly exciting in the beginning. The author investigated each level of organized crime that Norfleet exposes and after awhile I just couldn't read anymore as I soon had my fill of them. Nonetheless, I found this a very learning as well as revolting experience and will keep my eyes wide open in the future and won't be so trusting. I'm afraid I found this book too depressing to continue reading but if you are curious about this subject this well researched book is the one to read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stacey Lechner

    I had a hard time getting through this book. While the main story was interesting, I felt that it was chopped up too much by all the historical information. It interrupted the flow of the story and made it a much slower read than I would have liked.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Received a free copy from bookbrowse.com First Impressions. This a nonfiction account of con artists and swindles from the 1910s-20s with a prticular emphasis on J. Frank Norfleet, a Texan conned out of $45,000. He spent the next several years capturing the five men who stole his money and then the rest of his life helping arrest con artists and other criminals (all while remaining a private citizen and not a member of law enforcement). Amy Reading tells his story against the backdrop of a large Received a free copy from bookbrowse.com First Impressions. This a nonfiction account of con artists and swindles from the 1910s-20s with a prticular emphasis on J. Frank Norfleet, a Texan conned out of $45,000. He spent the next several years capturing the five men who stole his money and then the rest of his life helping arrest con artists and other criminals (all while remaining a private citizen and not a member of law enforcement). Amy Reading tells his story against the backdrop of a large enterprise of con artists and swindlers who are eventually brought down by the Denver District Attorney. Corruption is rampant among most law enforcement agencies and Norfleet helps in the takedown of 25 criminals and then at the subsequent trial. Originally an academic idea, this book is at times a bit dry and could have been more interesting and captivating.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Felicia Davin

    This is a very thorough history of con artists in the United States, going all the way back to Benjamin Franklin's era. The book switches between following the story of J. Frank Norfleet, a 20th-century Texas rancher who was swindled out of his life savings by a gang of con artists and who then dedicated the rest of his life to tracking them down, and more general history of confidence men. The history is entertaining, although occasionally quite dense. I especially enjoyed the portrait of Denve This is a very thorough history of con artists in the United States, going all the way back to Benjamin Franklin's era. The book switches between following the story of J. Frank Norfleet, a 20th-century Texas rancher who was swindled out of his life savings by a gang of con artists and who then dedicated the rest of his life to tracking them down, and more general history of confidence men. The history is entertaining, although occasionally quite dense. I especially enjoyed the portrait of Denver and its underworld in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries--calling it an "underworld" makes it sound so much more secret than it actually was, given how many city officials were in on it--and the dogged attorney general who eventually cleaned up, with Norfleet's help. I had no idea it was even possible to bug someone's office in the 1920s! There are so many good characters in this history, and appropriately, so many of the con artists have wonderful names. The Christian Kid. Hincky Dink. Soapy Smith. Lots of wonderful anecdotes, too, such as the one about early New York that gave our language the term "confidence man," which I won't spoil here because it made me laugh. Reading argues that the history of con artistry is inseparable from that of American capitalism, from eighteenth-century moralizing about the evils of speculation to 1920s ideas of winning big on the stock market, and I found her persuasive. But mostly I'd recommend this book for the anecdotes and characters!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    This is a multi-layered book as the author takes us through what was called the "big con", a sophisticated and well planned fleecing of unsuspecting "marks". We first meet J. Frank Norfleet, a Texas rancher who loses his life savings and most of his property to a gang of five very persuasive con artists. And thus begins his nationwide search for these men in order to bring them to justice. Interspersed with Norfleet's story is an introduction to famous (at the time) con men operating in the early This is a multi-layered book as the author takes us through what was called the "big con", a sophisticated and well planned fleecing of unsuspecting "marks". We first meet J. Frank Norfleet, a Texas rancher who loses his life savings and most of his property to a gang of five very persuasive con artists. And thus begins his nationwide search for these men in order to bring them to justice. Interspersed with Norfleet's story is an introduction to famous (at the time) con men operating in the early part of the 20th century and their well organized gangs....it took several people to pull off the con and these organizations were as intricate as business corporations. Where the story began to lag is when the author put forth the argument that the "big con" was not much different from the stock market. She spent too much time on this comparison (even though there was certainly a ring of truth to it) and I found myself scanning certain chapters. She might have been better served to omit this rather dry and pedantic section. Otherwise, it is an interesting look at a time when con men were everywhere and people were gullible enough to fall for their spiel.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Rixon

    Back in the day I gave this a three star review, I think because it was a bit dense. But in the years since reading this book I've continually found myself recommending it to people. Understanding how con artists leverage small moments of selfishness and minor bad choices, and create lifelong victims, is the single best way to understand relatives who are lost to the right wing news machine. And I've honestly had some success with getting people to read this book, understand more about how they' Back in the day I gave this a three star review, I think because it was a bit dense. But in the years since reading this book I've continually found myself recommending it to people. Understanding how con artists leverage small moments of selfishness and minor bad choices, and create lifelong victims, is the single best way to understand relatives who are lost to the right wing news machine. And I've honestly had some success with getting people to read this book, understand more about how they're being conned for their money and attention and votes, and helped them deal with that feeling of mortification and actually escape. Give this book to your Fox News Relatives. It doesn't seem political, and they might actually be interested in the cowboy-frontier parts of the narrative. And then once they've read it, you can refer back to it when you're explaining to them about how the coronavirus vaccine isn't going to have tracking microchips in it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Julia Fowler

    This was not at all what I had hoped for or expected, and I was incredibly let down. This is a non-fiction history book about con artists, and not at all written in an engaging way. Not once was my attention captured by the writing and I forced myself to finish only because I just wanted to get to the end to know for sure what happened, though it was pretty easy to guess. The chapters about the history of con artistry are all snooze fests bogged down with way too many non essential details. I wo This was not at all what I had hoped for or expected, and I was incredibly let down. This is a non-fiction history book about con artists, and not at all written in an engaging way. Not once was my attention captured by the writing and I forced myself to finish only because I just wanted to get to the end to know for sure what happened, though it was pretty easy to guess. The chapters about the history of con artistry are all snooze fests bogged down with way too many non essential details. I would rather read the autobiography this book is based on, at least that would be fun to read. No real flow and super boring. If you have insomnia this book will cure you.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jenny T.

    A digressive account of J. Frank Norfleet who was swindled in 1919 and then turned around to pursue the con men responsible for his losses. I felt a little editing would have made this book more streamlined and a better read. I did not like the author's own commentary about what may have occurred in Norfleet's life and how she kept inserting US economic theories. Personally, I found some of the tangents (especially the pages about Council Bluffs!) were more interesting than the original story li A digressive account of J. Frank Norfleet who was swindled in 1919 and then turned around to pursue the con men responsible for his losses. I felt a little editing would have made this book more streamlined and a better read. I did not like the author's own commentary about what may have occurred in Norfleet's life and how she kept inserting US economic theories. Personally, I found some of the tangents (especially the pages about Council Bluffs!) were more interesting than the original story line.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kate Laws

    Despite being a subject I am interested in, this read felt like a slog. I don't know how you make such a wild story a drag, but this author managed it. Not particularly compelling or memorable. Glad to be done with it. Despite being a subject I am interested in, this read felt like a slog. I don't know how you make such a wild story a drag, but this author managed it. Not particularly compelling or memorable. Glad to be done with it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Avery

    As the other reviewers say the author gets outside her element a little bit and tries to make the big con into a metaphor for American capitalism -- if you find that annoying then the book would be pretty unreadable. But it's not unbearable, and if you permit the context, the book is actually really fun and tells an amazing tall tale of a mark who became more wild and unbelievable than the men who conned him. As the other reviewers say the author gets outside her element a little bit and tries to make the big con into a metaphor for American capitalism -- if you find that annoying then the book would be pretty unreadable. But it's not unbearable, and if you permit the context, the book is actually really fun and tells an amazing tall tale of a mark who became more wild and unbelievable than the men who conned him.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ronnie Cramer

    This book starts with an okay re-telling of the con game perpetrated on a Texas rancher in 1919, but the author tries to make the story a parable of American morality in general. I'm sure this strategy delighted her PhD committee, but it doesn't help the book. This book starts with an okay re-telling of the con game perpetrated on a Texas rancher in 1919, but the author tries to make the story a parable of American morality in general. I'm sure this strategy delighted her PhD committee, but it doesn't help the book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Hackney

    Good read. The author has an interesting take on a well-covered topic. She chose to examine the protagonist's management of his image, market positioning, personal brand, etc. in an era long before social media. That element added to the also very interesting core story of a conned man's relentless pursuit of his swindlers. Good read. The author has an interesting take on a well-covered topic. She chose to examine the protagonist's management of his image, market positioning, personal brand, etc. in an era long before social media. That element added to the also very interesting core story of a conned man's relentless pursuit of his swindlers.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Scott

    I'm a bit jealous of a dissertation being converted to a popular press book, particularly a book as good as this, but I really enjoyed both the story of Norfleet and his revenge but Reading's efforts to place the con in the context of early twentieth century America. And any book that is set, at times, in Plainview, Hale Center, and Denver has to be a good book, right? I'm a bit jealous of a dissertation being converted to a popular press book, particularly a book as good as this, but I really enjoyed both the story of Norfleet and his revenge but Reading's efforts to place the con in the context of early twentieth century America. And any book that is set, at times, in Plainview, Hale Center, and Denver has to be a good book, right?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bess

    It's like modern day trickster mythology. This is a fascinating history of the long con and the rise of the confidence scam, with particular attention paid to a very colorful hunter of con artists who seems to have been a bit of a con artist himself. A page turner that taught me a lot of history. It's like modern day trickster mythology. This is a fascinating history of the long con and the rise of the confidence scam, with particular attention paid to a very colorful hunter of con artists who seems to have been a bit of a con artist himself. A page turner that taught me a lot of history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Yawn. Would have been an interesting. Story in 100 pages but the other 140 ruined it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robs

    i read it...slowly.. too many tangents for me, would have liked just the main story better by itself.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Booooring

  18. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    Made it 75% of the way through, but had to stop as reading became a chore. Should have been a fascinating story, but it became bogged down with unnecessary exposition and commentary.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    A more promising premise than the reality of the book. Too bogged down in details of one man's "reverse swindle". A more promising premise than the reality of the book. Too bogged down in details of one man's "reverse swindle".

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    I guess this book was interesting, being a history of the con job. But the author tends towards digression, and it just kept losing me. So, informative but not engaging.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    http://philadelphiareviewofbooks.com/... The food court at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania lies off of the betting floor. You don’t show your ID to anyone to get in, but the Formica tables and steel tube chairs are closer to the gambling action than even the diamond store on the other side of an ATM behind a wall of thick, spotless glass 40 feet away from the turnstiles admitting gamblers. If you’re in town for an event at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center – say a Beach Boys concert – http://philadelphiareviewofbooks.com/... The food court at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania lies off of the betting floor. You don’t show your ID to anyone to get in, but the Formica tables and steel tube chairs are closer to the gambling action than even the diamond store on the other side of an ATM behind a wall of thick, spotless glass 40 feet away from the turnstiles admitting gamblers. If you’re in town for an event at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center – say a Beach Boys concert – you enter the food court through the hotel and then a shopping mall. The mall contains a high-end children’s clothing store, another retail outlet with gauche souvenirs of the American flag-draped bald eagle snow globe variety, and the immaculate diamond shop. The rest of the storefronts are empty. The glass walls glitter over polished white marble floors and silently rolling escalators. “I’ll take the Triple Play with spaghettis and two meatballs with sauce and a salad. Don’t forget the garlic roll.” The Italian restaurant in the food court serves all of its dishes a la carte. The woman ordering the Triple Play wears a white linen shirt with the cuffs of its sleeves unbuttoned to relax the flab under her arms. She watches the young man behind the glass buffet counter spoon her food into a foam tray before he hands it to a shorter young man behind him in front of a microwave. The short guy will heat her food for her. She wants to be sure they give her all the spaghettis she is due. “Pepsi.” The Triple Play comes with a 32 ounce soft drink. You can substitute a 20 ounce water. One of the many paradoxes of the casino is that soda is cheaper than water. Another is that you cannot bring any beverages, not even the 20 ounce water, from any section of the casino complex into any other section. A casino employee will confiscate your water as you enter the Event Center, wherein you can buy another water for three times the price. The backlit menu above the heads of the workers at the Italian a la carte place lists only eight prices. The Triple Play is $10.99 and combo meals 1 through 7 range in price from $8.99 to $12.99. None of the individual items sitting under heat lamps and smudged glass are priced. Rare is the brave diner who orders an individual item. Most order the Triple Play. Gamblers lose their love of risk off the maroon carpet. I follow suit. But it turns out the square of lasagna I was eyeing is not considered a pasta dish in the Triple Play deal. Live and learn. “Nice. They got a diamond shop right there so you can cash in all your chips and buy a ring for the girl who blew on your dice at the roulette table.” “There are no dice on a roulette table.” Enough beating around the bush. I’m running late for the Beach Boys concert. The food court offers quick, convenient dining. I don’t want to miss a moment of Mike Love’s wooden dance moves or Brian Wilson’s Adidas training pants falling down as he walks to his white piano. Something about the whole casino complex reminds me of a massive con. The place is a black hole, sucking tourists in for the entire duration of their stay in this faded steel town. Why would you leave the premises of the Sands Bethlehem Casino and Hotel and Event Center when you’ve got a bad hip and the food court serves Basset’s ice cream and mozzarella and spinach paninis and bitter iced coffee and you can buy your grandkids new clothes and a bird house with a mildly racist, greatly patriotic aphorism stenciled on the side? You would not leave the premises. Not if you’re the bald brute in the striped polo shirt rubbing his shiny scalp and checking hidden sections of his wallet for cash and cards. Not if you’re one of the Chinese ladies sitting at one of the food court’s tables staring away from your companion in silence. Not if you’re celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary with Henrietta, happy to be wearing khaki shorts and tall white socks in the air-conditioned early spring. * In November of 2010, in the parking lot of the Sugar House Casino overlooking the Delaware River in Philadelphia, not long after midnight, two men robbed a 31-year-old woman and stole her winnings before they jumped into a 2001 Pontiac Bonneville and fled the scene. One of the men pistol-whipped the woman to subdue her. She was treated for her injuries at Temple University Hospital. In October of the same year, the casino’s second month in business, two armed assailants followed a man from Sugar House to his home in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. There the men pistol-whipped the victim, knocked him to the sidewalk, and demanded his $2000 winnings. The man wrestled the assailants to the ground and shouted for a neighbor to call the police, before the bandits ran away and fled in their car. They collected none of the gambler’s $2000 in cash. In July of 2011, Nikale Mitchell, 21, stole $5000 worth of chips from the casino’s tables. In August, casino security apprehended him for stealing another $3 worth of chips and matched his distinctive tattoos to footage of the original theft captured by security cameras. Next time young Nikale will wear long sleeves. According to Casino-Free Philadelphia, 2 crimes were committed each week, on average, on or adjacent to the Sugar House Casino, in its first year of operation. This figure does not include off-site crime, such as the attempted robbery in Cinnaminson. The Pennsylvania State Police patrol the casino grounds 24 hours a day. Gamblers lost $232,034,168 at Sugar House in that first year. $116,017,084 of that total came from the pockets of Philadelphia residents. The City of Philadelphia received only $11,479,868 in taxes and fees from the casino. This represents a 10 to 1 ratio of loss for residents of the city and gain in revenues for the municipality. Investors in Sugar House made $54,185,333 of the first year of operations. $34,136,759 of this went to Chicago businessmen Neil Bluhm and Greg Carlin. A “large percentage” of Sugar House’s customers visit the casino 3 to 5 times per week. This all sounds like a big con perpetrated on a willing populous, something the government might find in its own best interest to protect the residents of Philadelphia from. And all the talk of pistol-whipping stinks of the Old, Wild West. Not the new Old, Wild West of the housing bubble (though parallels exist), but the old Old, Wild West of free vice towns, mineral prospecting and land grabs (not to mention complex and opaque stock market speculation with whiffs of default swaps and derivatives). It turns out the Wild West is none too distant in place, time or spirit from present-day Philadelphia or an increasing number of towns and isolated resorts across the country, not to mention an increasingly maligned Wall Street. Amy Reading opens her new book, The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con in Dallas, Texas. There, in November of 1919, the Furey Gang conned J. Frank Norfleet, a prosperous 54-year-old rancher from the Panhandle, out of the equivalent of $1.66 million in today’s currency. The gang, headed by Joe Furey, one of the most accomplished and inventive confidence men of his time, managed to sucker Norfleet into increasing his investment in a shady enterprise, convincing him to return home at one point and borrow a further $45,000 from his bank. Furey, posing as a broker for a major bank, offered what he claimed was insider information, and with a few bundles of cash, made Norfleet believe he could grow his wealth eightfold and cover a debt on nearby pastures he owed to a neighboring family back in the Panhandle. This was just the endgame in a con that involved Reno Hamlin posing as a hick rancher to draw Norfleet into the con, W.B. Spencer pretending to be a young, polished banker and real estate man who could fix all of Norfleet’s land problems and even throw in with him on Furey’s privileged investment opportunities, and finally Charles Gerber and E.J. Ward playing the parts of stock exchange floor manager and disgruntled trading regulator. It sounds complicated, and it is. The big con works by sucking its mark into a world full of complications where only the con men can help set things right. The criminal is always doing the victim a favor, and with each new twist of the play, the favor just keeps on getting bigger. Before continuing Norfleet’s story of redemption and transformation, and in further interjections later in the book, Reading gives readers a history of cons and con men, a profession and practitioner so engrained in the spirit of America as to seem essential to the young nation’s formation and the source of its own tragic defeats. From the social climbing of Benjamin Franklin, to the imaginary products of the financial industry, the swindle, the art of inspiring confidence in non-existent prospects is an essential element of America. In love with this idea, Reading’s portrait of these men, and their victims, is a little too rosy. Though in The Mark Inside they are romanticized, the con artist is the most anti-social of all criminals. They fool the most susceptible of marks and coopt otherwise innocent people into criminal practices. The confidence man is the entrapper of the crime world. Very few social implications of speculation, a legitimized confidence game, are explored herein. We never see the worker who is exploited and robbed of the fruits of his labors by high finance, only the more obvious mark, the greedy sucker who chooses to invest his money in often questionable ventures in the hopes of moving further up that social ladder. We do see the parallel between the insidious foisting of financial schemes on unsuspecting but willing people and the self-delusory enjoyment of sideshow oddities in the long lines to see an obviously fake mermaid skeleton promoted by P.T. Barnum. Reading, however, hits her stride when she returns to Norfleet’s post-con story. Though he has his doubts all along, Norfleet only realizes he’s been duped for certain after returning to his Panhandle ranch, where he is unable to contact any of the men who he believes owe him a massive amount of money. Unlike most suckers, J. Frank Norfleet is not too proud to admit his foolishness or the wiliness of his swindlers. As a young man, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps, forging his own successful ranching business after many years of working other men’s cattle. He tells the sheriff what’s happened. He comes clean with the bank from which he borrowed some of his investment money. He tells the newspapers. Norfleet will not rest until the Furey Gang is locked up, each and every one of them. As a boy, he followed his father on a long chase to extract rent money from a tenant, and this instilled in little J. Frank a sense of the means and ways of justice in the hinterlands of the United States. It’s the same ethos Norfleet used to acquire his wealth. If you want something done, you better be willing to do it yourself. The Texas Panhandle, especially in the early part of the 20th century, is no base of operations for a criminal dragnet, and the ill-tailored clothes and unfashionable bowl-cut hair of a hick cattle rancher are no visage for catching the sharpest of perps. So, Norfleet hops trains to Palm Beach, San Antonio, San Francisco, Denver, and every shady hamlet and metropolis in between to search for the five men who stole his money. He takes on a number of different personas, to ease his movement through the transit of depots, hotels and trading floors he knows will bring him to his prey. Employing the same tricks the con men do, he cons a different gang into thinking he’s a foolish mark. This is a vital part of Denver District Attorney Philip Van Cise’s ingenious and massive raid on the infamous Lou Blonger network of racketeers. These adventures lead Norfleet into perilous territory. He’s nearly poisoned in the dining car of a train, almost hanged and dropped into the ocean by thugs in Florida. In his memoirs, and in a never-released silent film directed by and starring Norfleet, he tells of his exploits with relish and flamboyance. Reading is right to draw the parallel between the Furey Gang’s elaborate and dramatic staging of their big con, and Norfleet’s fantastic and unbelievable tale of catching them and playing an indispensable part in destroying other rackets. This is the American way. You make up your story as you go along. If reality doesn’t work, you create something that does. Sure, it’s ironic that for even the sharpest, most sophisticated of con men, the only way to catch them red-handed is to con them into a trap. You’d think a good swindler could smell a con when it was being foisted on him. But the big lesson here, is that we’re all willing participants in this elaborate game of deception. Reading contrasts the fall of Blonger’s empire in Denver with the deplorable spread of the sucker, under the banner of risky investment, through middle class America. The smoky trading floors of the cities and towns Norfleet visits look a lot like the monitors of today’s investment banks and hedge funds. They’re both too opaque. The presence of legitimate gambling in Denver and many other Old West cities only encouraged stronger forms of vice. We’re learning these lessons again, for what will certainly not be the last time. Though the cons committed on the plush carpeted floors of the Sands Bethlehem and the Sugar House might be more prosaic, they are no less insidious. One will undo you as good as the other. I wish I could say, in the end, J. Frank Norfleet returns to the simple life of a Texas cattle rancher, but instead, he is reduced to a dotage of good-natured cons, telling his fantastic story for money and exploiting the hunger of the public for tales of revenge and deception. The mark becomes the con man, and the two roles lose their distinction.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jay Phillippi

    1919 Texas rancher J. Frank Norcross goes into town to sell some acreage so he can buy a better piece of property. Before that can happen, Norcross is swindled out of his money. It was the worst mistake the confidence men would ever make. Norcross dedicated the rest of his life to tracking them down. The whole thing reads like a mid-level movie script. Yet, it’s all true. Or most of it’s true. Some of it’s true? Norcross did dedicate his life to finding the men that scammed him out of a small for 1919 Texas rancher J. Frank Norcross goes into town to sell some acreage so he can buy a better piece of property. Before that can happen, Norcross is swindled out of his money. It was the worst mistake the confidence men would ever make. Norcross dedicated the rest of his life to tracking them down. The whole thing reads like a mid-level movie script. Yet, it’s all true. Or most of it’s true. Some of it’s true? Norcross did dedicate his life to finding the men that scammed him out of a small fortune. The details surrounding the hunt may be found on both sides of the fiction line. Reading (what a great name for an author!) gives us not only Norcross’s story but a look at how the confidence man and his swindle became a deeply rooted part of American life. Amy Reading does a great job presenting all of this, including Norcross’s tendency to embroider the story now and then, in an enjoyable read. Her storytelling wobbles a little at times, especially when dealing with the question of what Norcross sometimes claimed he had done. At times, it felt like she was trying to convince us not to believe anything he said. In the end, it’s not enough to keep it from being both educational and great fun. History the way most of us enjoy it. It seems to be her only book to date. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that there will be more in the future.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Breza

    The Mark Inside tells a forgotten tale of white collar crime and frontier justice. It's an exciting book that's full of adventure, and even the author casts doubt on some aspects of the protagonist's tale. I'm only giving it three stars because the narrative is repeatedly lost in the author's giving background into the history of American con-artistry. Some books manage to pull off the interweaving of narrative and background (e.g. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey or anything by Erik Lar The Mark Inside tells a forgotten tale of white collar crime and frontier justice. It's an exciting book that's full of adventure, and even the author casts doubt on some aspects of the protagonist's tale. I'm only giving it three stars because the narrative is repeatedly lost in the author's giving background into the history of American con-artistry. Some books manage to pull off the interweaving of narrative and background (e.g. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey or anything by Erik Larson) but the interludes made this book harder to follow.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ken Maxon

    Interesting history of conmen and their victims out west during the late 19th and early 20th century. (The movie “The Sting” starring Robert Redford comes to mind. ) The degree of corruption in Colorado and Texas back then is hard to fathom today. Conmen thrived in this environment, but could only be successful by tapping into their victims inner desire to make a big score with inside and legally questionable information, i.e., “The Mark Inside”. Con artists will always be with us, and it was ju Interesting history of conmen and their victims out west during the late 19th and early 20th century. (The movie “The Sting” starring Robert Redford comes to mind. ) The degree of corruption in Colorado and Texas back then is hard to fathom today. Conmen thrived in this environment, but could only be successful by tapping into their victims inner desire to make a big score with inside and legally questionable information, i.e., “The Mark Inside”. Con artists will always be with us, and it was just yesterday that a Congressman cited the POTUS as a conman. Conmen by definition are liars, and the President’s lies are legion and verifiable. That his staunch supporters waver not a bit in the face of his deceptions is remarkable, and better understood after reading this book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lance

    The author does a great job of interweaving a great con yarn, a sensational criminal trial, a history of the con game, economic theory, and a study of why the American psyche is so susceptible to the con artist's wiles. If this sounds like an impossible job, it is, yet Reading succeeds anyway. Entertaining, informative and insightful in equal measure, this book is a page-turner with revelations and plot twists that occur with increasing frequency. This will satisfy confidence fans, true crime bu The author does a great job of interweaving a great con yarn, a sensational criminal trial, a history of the con game, economic theory, and a study of why the American psyche is so susceptible to the con artist's wiles. If this sounds like an impossible job, it is, yet Reading succeeds anyway. Entertaining, informative and insightful in equal measure, this book is a page-turner with revelations and plot twists that occur with increasing frequency. This will satisfy confidence fans, true crime buffs and American history addicts alike.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    I enjoyed reading about the history of con artistry. The author did well detailing the specific story of a farmer who got conned then became determined to take down the con men. So much of the story reads like it’s fiction, although the sources are well-detailed. It is difficult to trust in the farmer’s version of events. For that, the story felt somewhat cheapened. It’s not anything to do with the author, but everything beyond the basic facts must be taken with a grain of salt.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carrie Laben

    Brisk but digressive in the style of Erik Larson, this book links a nearly-forgotten Texan who molded himself into a dime-novel hero with a sweeping look at the evolution of American crime and commerce. Doesn't quite reach the heights of Devil in the White City or The Ghost Map, to name two of my favorites in this genre, but overall it's a well-balanced and interesting read on a man I'd never heard of before and a subject that impacts all of us. Brisk but digressive in the style of Erik Larson, this book links a nearly-forgotten Texan who molded himself into a dime-novel hero with a sweeping look at the evolution of American crime and commerce. Doesn't quite reach the heights of Devil in the White City or The Ghost Map, to name two of my favorites in this genre, but overall it's a well-balanced and interesting read on a man I'd never heard of before and a subject that impacts all of us.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    This is one of the very few dissertation-into-first-book books I have truly enjoyed cover to cover. The presentation of Norfleet's truly hair-raising adventure is presented faithfully but also with a healthy and skeptical eye for exaggeration and self-promotion, and the interleaving of the history of American bunko and the changing of American beliefs about the economy are masterfully done and very engaging. I will certainly snap up whatever else Ms. Reading publishes! This is one of the very few dissertation-into-first-book books I have truly enjoyed cover to cover. The presentation of Norfleet's truly hair-raising adventure is presented faithfully but also with a healthy and skeptical eye for exaggeration and self-promotion, and the interleaving of the history of American bunko and the changing of American beliefs about the economy are masterfully done and very engaging. I will certainly snap up whatever else Ms. Reading publishes!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel

    Amy Reading spins a spellbinding combined with a deep look at the history of the confidence game. The essay part of the book sometimes breaks the narrative flow but it also feels needed to truly understand Norfleet's enterprise. Reading's writing is clear and enjoyable throughout and her research was extensive. Highly recommended. Amy Reading spins a spellbinding combined with a deep look at the history of the confidence game. The essay part of the book sometimes breaks the narrative flow but it also feels needed to truly understand Norfleet's enterprise. Reading's writing is clear and enjoyable throughout and her research was extensive. Highly recommended.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nic

    Very enjoyable popular history, which uses the story of a US man who was swindled in the 1920s (and then spent the rest of his life basically taking down con artists) to explore shifts in early-20th-century US cultural history: spectacle, 'character', capitalism, and more. Very enjoyable popular history, which uses the story of a US man who was swindled in the 1920s (and then spent the rest of his life basically taking down con artists) to explore shifts in early-20th-century US cultural history: spectacle, 'character', capitalism, and more.

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