Rating 4/5 – If there’s one feeling The Don Con gave me is the need to have Gangster-Con in my life. This thing must exist so I can die knowing I attended one. I want to pay idiotic prices for an autograph from Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci. (You know, while we still have them around for such things.) I want to attend the perspective on Abe Vigoda (look him up, kids.) or visit the Godfather I & II panel (III? What III?), or see Mario Punza be given a lifetime achievement award from loyal fans.
Just the lead-up to this idea alone makes reading the Don Con worth the price of your money and time to read this one. This book is a dark comedy in the vain of Get Shorty or Big Trouble. It’s got good pop culture references, does actually feature the Mafia (of a sort) coming to a version of any Comic-Con these days and manages to mix the dark comedy with serious plot turns in a nice smooth fashion.
The Don Con – Actors in Crime
Meet Joey Volpe, struggling middle-age actor whose only claim to real fame is a couple of walk-on parts in The Sopranos and a couple of feature re-appearances in a one-season crime drama. He squeaks out a living attending conventions where he’s a “That Guy Who was in That Thing” who signs autographs for long-lines of fans of people who are sure they know him but can’t remember from where exactly. When he meets a real-life mobster who forces Joey to commit a crime he plots revenge like no other that involves more mobsters, con men and a convention that simple should exist.
Dark comedy is not easy to do. For every Get Shorty, you’ll get a Very Bad Things. There’s a difference between darkly funny and just mean spirited in the service of darkly funny. (Very Bad Things is a perfect example of being more mean spirited and ugly then funny.) There were a few dark turns in the Don Con, but Richard Armstrong navigates the dark with real-life absurdity. It had its moments, Gangster Con being the highlight.
The Rights and Wrongs of the Don Con
Richard Armstrong will never be mistaken for a geek. You know this because of his convention panel descriptions. I’m not saying the man never read a comic or doesn’t enjoy a cheesy science fiction every once in a while (because everyone enjoys a cheesy sci-fi every once in a while) but he’s not in the culture. Armstrong gives accurate descriptions of various conventions shows he’s at least attended two. When he said one of the biggest panels included Alan Moore, that is an easily researchable mistake.
Otherwise, the voice of the story gives the reader a good idea of what it’s like to be at the autograph table of these things. I’ve only been on the line side of that equation. I see the look in the faces of writers, artists, and actors after they’ve sat there all day. It is not a pretty sight as a convention comes to a close.
With the opening scene, Volpe is approached by a real-life gangster. The Gangster has been in the news but Joey has barely heard of him. This is mostly because he simply doesn’t travel in those circles so the new item would probably be a blip on his radar. I wish Gangster Con had been a bigger part of the story but I understood it better served the climax. The resolution was a little rushed but something happened that I didn’t expect. That’s always a great thing.
Don Con by Richard Armstrong is a terrific read. The main characters are fun, the resolution, though a little rushed, happened face. It was a lot of fun to see them complete their revenge scam. Joey Volpe is a good character and has the right voice for the story. It would be interesting to see what would happen if he found himself in the middle of running Gangster Con again having to face some of the threads left over from this story. There’s real smiles throughout the novel and a lot of interesting characters as well as an original situation. If they don’t make Gangster Con happen I’m going to Misery somebody.