The acclaimed British author makes his U.S. debut with the tale of a small-time grifter, an erstwhile vaudeville performer, and an unabashed charmer who posed as a Native American chief to earn money, love, and attention across the globe.
Willetts has meticulously researched this book, and is rigorous about not making claims without evidence ... Willetts has reconstructed Laplante’s escapades, supplemented by chronicles from those who knew him, including Burtha. While Willetts’s refusal to speculate is admirable, it also constrains his narration, which is littered with qualifiers ... Too often, the story takes refuge in auxiliary trivia ... In the end, Willetts’s dilemma is transferred to the reader: this is a story about unscrupulous deception told with a scrupulosity that is admirable, but leaves the reader wishing that it were just a bit, well, jazzier.
In this extensively detailed biography, Willetts ... occasionally gets bogged down by detail—a passage about Laplante’s short-term residence at the Montana Soldier’s Home leads to a long tangent about his education at the Sockanosset School for Boys 17 year earlier—but he keeps the narrative alive with the colorful anecdotes from Laplante’s remarkable life.
The absorbing tale of a Jazz Age grifter ... brings fresh significance to the ancient profession of the con artist. With the rise of identity theft, celebrity worship, and manipulative social media, this sprightly story of a legendary con artist’s outrageous successes becomes a cautionary tale for the digital age.