Thursday, October 12, 2017

David Howard's "Chasing Phil"

David Howard's first book, Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic, chronicled the 138-year journey of an original, priceless rendition of the Bill of Rights that was pilfered during the Civil War.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World's Most Charming Con Man, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 encapsulates the book nicely. Chasing Phil is a road-trip story, and the three main characters are trying to find their rhythms and routines together. Here, in March 1977, they’re visiting the Fontainebleau Hotel, a massive, ostentatious slab on Miami Beach where in better days Frank Sinatra played the La Ronde Room, entertaining visiting mafioso. The main character, Phil Kitzer, an ingenious, globetrotting high-finance con artist, favors these kinds of vast lodgings—places that are at once grand and anonymous.

The sagging Fontainebleau is now under assault from Kitzer’s swindler associates, who are using fraudulent bank securities to try to wring out the last drops of its lifeblood. The hotel, I write, is “flirting with bankruptcy and sending off the kind of distressed-animal sounds that attracted predators like Andy D’Amato.”

The page introduces one of my favorite scenes—a passage that unpacks some of Phil’s complexities. He sweeps into the gift shop, where he buys every teddy bear on the shelves, then loads them into the arms of his trainees—two young men who are actually undercover FBI agents. The agents are thinking, What is this?

Page 100 spoiler alert: Phil ushers them into the hotel’s Poodle Lounge, where he hands out the stuffed animals to women cradling happy-hour martinis and proceeds to take over the room. He’s hilarious and flirtatious and flamboyant, making sure everyone watches as he peels a couple of hundreds off a massive wad of cash to pay for rounds of drinks.

This scene helps set up readers to wrestle with a central dilemma: Do I root for or against this guy? All you know for sure, as of page 99, is that it’s fun to ride along.
Visit David Howard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue