The Art of Seduction

The Art of Seduction

Posted on August 30 by Mario Bolduc
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Readers have asked me a few times why I chose a scam artist as a protagonist for the Max O’Brien series. I must say, I have always been fascinated by this kind of character. When I first travelled to India many years ago, I heard of a very popular con game.

You’re sitting in a café with fellow travellers, a friend told me, when a local guy – speaking good English, obviously educated – comes to your table with an irresistible offer: a much better rate of exchange for your travellers cheques. Twice what they’re worth at the bank, he says. The guy’s arguments are convincing. The official rate of exchange is so low, banks are "legal" thieves anyway… You’re tempted but still hesitant.

The second act opens with the arrival of a young Swiss, British, or German traveller who goes out of his way to thank the local guy for the big money he made with his help the day before. This newcomer is exactly like you: same generation, same look, friendly manners, and he belongs to your own world. It’s hard not to trust him!

Finally, one of the travellers is convinced and say yes. Another one goes for it as well. The crook leaves with the signed travellers cheques to cash them, promising to return shortly with the money. Of course, he never comes back, and the cheques are gone forever.

It seems like a straightforward operation, easy to detect and quite laughable. But all the conditions are in place for a very effective con game: the "certainty" of a big profit, the urgency and immediacy of the situation, the kindness and sympathy of the perpetrators.

My friend refused to give away his own cheques. At the time, he blamed himself for his cautiousness, he felt he was missing a great opportunity. He thought: I’m a fool, everyone will make money except me. He felt like a loser. Of course, when all of them realized they had been played for, he was very happy to have resisted the scam.

That year in India, I heard the same story over and over. Could anyone be that naive? I even thought it was an urban legend. Until I was approached in Mumbai by this intellectual-looking guy – glasses, nice suit, polished shoes – who offered me an "exceptional" rate of exchange for my American Express cheques. I had to laugh; he felt insulted.

Anyway, I must admit these scam artists make wonderful fictional characters. I remember enjoying the Stephen Frears movie The Grifters written by Donald E. Westlake and based on the novel by Jim Thompson, one of my favorite crime writers. David Mamet’s House of Games was a lot of fun to watch, as well as The Spanish Prisoner a few years later. I also learned a lot from The Art of the Steal by Frank Abagnale – the Stephen Spielberg movie Catch Me If You Can is based on his life.

All these helped me create my own scammer, Max O’Brien. In The Kashmir Trap, we see a younger Max learning the trade from Mimi, his protective "godmother".    

She’d chosen a table at the far end near two businessmen in suits and ties whose discussion involved airy sweeps of their pens. Mimi at once struck up a conversation with them. They were only too glad of a pretext for getting off business matters, and she was especially charming: a smile here, a burst of laughter there, and her timing was perfect. Max twiddled his thumbs until they ordered… the same thing as the two business types, who were now back in the thick of their number-columns. After dessert, and feeling stuffed, Max was still wondering what this life lesson was that she wanted to teach him. Till now, they’d just talked about trivial stuff, as though intimidated by their surroundings, nothing heart-to-heart. Max was confused. Mimi had brought him here to talk him out of a burglary, but they were surrounded by things only money could buy — lots of money. Max figured after the burglary he’d invite her out for a life lesson, too.

When they’d finished eating, Mimi caught the attention of the businessmen once more. On the ground was a leather wallet one of them had probably dropped.

“Is that yours?”

Intrigued, one of the men scooped it toward him with his foot, but it wasn’t his or his colleague’s. Mimi took it from him and said, “I’ll give it to the waiter. He’ll want to know which table it was under. If he looks this way, signal him, would you?”

Baffled, Max followed her to the counter where the overworked waiter was trying to juggle three different orders.

“Our boss is getting the bill, so just give it to him.”

            “Your boss, where?”

            Mimi pointed to the two businessmen, and one of them, as expected, waved to them. The waiter nodded and went on about his task.

            Once out on the sidewalk, Mimi walked Max away, but not too quickly. Bewildered by what he’d just seen, Max didn’t dare ask any questions, though he was dying to.

            Then she said, “There’s more than one way into a life of crime, Max. Some ways are smarter than others.”

Mario Bolduc

Posted by Kendra on September 2, 2015
Mario Bolduc photo

Mario Bolduc

Screenwriter Mario Bolduc has written three novels featuring Max O’Brien, originally published in French. The Kashmir Trap starts the series and Tsiganes (The Roma Plot) won the 2008 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Book in French. Mario lives in Montreal.