The Confidence Men
“[A] marvelous history. … Fox enriches her account with intriguing deep dives into the psychology of ‘coercive persuasion,’ the mechanics of confidence games, and the history of spiritualism in the U.S. and England. Readers will be mesmerized by this rich and rewarding tale.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The Confidence Men couldn’t have come along at a better time. This story of two unlikely con artists—young British officers who use a Ouija board to escape from a Turkish prisoner-of-war camp—is a true delight, guaranteed to lift the spirits of anyone eager to forget today’s realities and lose oneself in a beautifully written tale of an exciting and deeply moving real-life caper.” —Lynne Olson, author of Madame Fourcade’s Secret War
“Margalit Fox is one of the premier narrative storytellers we have today, and The Confidence Men is a wonderfully entertaining brew of history, thrills, and ingenuity, one that highlights the rare occasion when con artistry is employed for the greater public good.” —Sarah Weinman, author of The Real Lolita and editor of Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession
“A wonder; a marvel; a feat of invention and dogged persistence; and most of all, a testament to the power of the human capacity to believe. The Confidence Men is a thrilling tale of courage and friendship and overcoming, not to mention tricks and lies and magician’s cunning, and it will have you cheering the tricksters every step of the way. The story of their ingenuity offers joy, solace, and hope.” —Liza Mundy, author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
“The brisk true story of a jailbreak so bizarre it might rate an entry in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” —Kirkus Reviews
Imprisoned in a remote Turkish P.O.W. camp during World War I, having survived a two-month forced march and a terrifying shootout in the desert, two British officers, Harry Jones and Cedric Hill, join forces to bamboozle their captors. To stave off despair and boredom, Jones takes a handmade Ouija board and fakes elaborate séances for his fellow prisoners. Word gets around, and one day an Ottoman official approaches him with a query: Could Jones contact the spirit world to find a vast treasure rumored to be buried nearby? Jones, a trained lawyer, and Hill, a brilliant magician, use the Ouija board—and their keen understanding of the psychology of deception—to build a trap for their captors that will ultimately lead them to freedom.
If all went according to plan, the camp’s iron-fisted commandant would gleefully conduct Jones and Hill along their escape route, with the Ottoman government paying their travel expenses. If their con was discovered, it would mean a bullet in the back for each of them. The ruse also required our heroes to feign mental illness, stage a double suicide attempt that came perilously close to turning real, and endure six months in a Turkish insane asylum, an ordeal that drove them to the edge of actual madness. And yet in the end they won their liberty.
A gripping nonfiction thriller, The Confidence Men is the story of one of the only known con games played for a good cause—and of a profound but unlikely friendship. Had it not been for the Great War, Jones, the Oxford-educated son of a British lord, and Hill, a mechanic on an Australian sheep station, would almost certainly never have met. But in pain, loneliness, hunger, and isolation, they formed a powerful emotional and intellectual alliance that saved both of their lives.
Margalit Fox brings her “nose for interesting facts, the ability to construct a taut narrative arc, and a Dickens-level gift for concisely conveying personality” (Kathryn Schulz, New York) to this tale of psychological strategy that is rife with cunning, danger, and moments of high farce that rival anything in Catch-22.