Books on con artists, deception, foul play and secret double lives?
July 8, 2011 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations for thrilling true-life tales of bluebloods behaving badly?

I just finished The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal and found it the perfect summer diversion.

It started as one of those gripping Vanity Fair articles that are almost too twisted to be true (long cons, murder, double-crossing--I think of the Kissel brothers story or the one recently about the man who ran a giant law firm and got nabbed in Canada posing as one of his clients in a client's office).

Can you recommend some more book-length tales of deception or foul play that are stranger than fiction? Ripley but real?
posted by annabellee to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
White Mischief by James Fox. Murder and all kinds of shenanigans among British aristocrats in Kenya. There's a movie, but the book is fabulous.
posted by Cocodrillo at 7:37 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

The saga of Robert Durst. Not sure if a book has been written.
posted by yarly at 7:38 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

A lot of ink has been shed about the Chappaquiddick Incident, where the late Senator Kennedy was allegedly involved in a car accident that was fatal for his young female passenger. The bibliography there has a bunch of stuff targeted directly at the incident and its aftermath, and given the conspiracy theories surrounding the issue--both condemning and defending Kennedy--one might expect there to be a fair amount of juice involved.
posted by valkyryn at 7:39 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is about this sort of thing on a grand, somewhat scary, scale
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:42 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dominick Dunne was king of "ripped from the headlines" books, fiction but with details gleaned from inside sources. A Season in Purgatory is about the Martha Moxley murder, which for years remained a mystery with Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel as the prime suspect. Skakel was eventually convicted and his cousin RFK Jr blames the book and Dunne for the conviction.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:56 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Billionaire Boys Club.
posted by Melismata at 8:09 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The story of John Eleuthère du Pont applies here. A quick search on Amazon reveals this book about him.
posted by deanc at 8:46 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Stanford White murder spawned several books.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:58 AM on July 8, 2011

Some Hope. Black humor at it's finest (although several people I recommended it to found it wholly unfunny).

The Talented Mr. Ripley.
posted by subajestad at 9:12 AM on July 8, 2011

If White Mischief sounds interesting, The Bolter covers a lot of the same ground as part of a biography of a different badly-behaved blueblood. It's more about sleeping around (and marrying and divorcing) than financial mischief, though.
posted by immlass at 9:21 AM on July 8, 2011

I don't have a specific book recommendation but Lord Lucan's story is fascinating.
posted by humph at 9:33 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also don't have a specific book to suggest, but the Claus von Bulow case comes to mind.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2011

Daughters of the Revolution kicks off with someone behaving quite badly, i think. Also The Fundamentals of Play.
posted by Ollie at 11:28 AM on July 8, 2011

Eek, I'm sorry, I got so excited I didn't see you said "true-life."
posted by Ollie at 11:29 AM on July 8, 2011

Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by Paula Byrne.

From the Booklist review by Mary Ellen Quinn :
As much as this is a biography of Evelyn Waugh, it is also the biography of the family that inspired his best-known novel, Brideshead Revisited. The product of a middle-class upbringing and a middling public school, Waugh’s experience at Oxford was an awakening. There, he fell in with a sophisticated crowd that had at its center the glamorous Hugh Lygon, second son in an aristocratic Catholic family. Scandal-ridden as well, the eminent patriarch, Lord Beauchamp, was forced to leave the country because of homosexual activities. Waugh became close friends with several of Hugh’s sisters, whose doings seemed to exemplify the spirit of the age. Their splendid house Madresfield Court—called Mad for short—offered the template for Brideshead, just as Hugh provided the model for Sebastian Flyte. Readers don’t necessarily need to be conversant with Waugh’s novels in order to enjoy this well-researched and absorbing account, but those who are will be fascinated by Byrne’s exploration of how Waugh used elements from his own life to shape his work. Expect requests for Brideshead Revisited from patrons who get their hands on this.
posted by likeso at 1:30 PM on July 8, 2011

I haven't read it, but Hot Blood is about horse killings for insurance money and the murder of millionaire candy company heiress Helen Brach. Strangely, Reille Hunter was also involved.
posted by sepviva at 4:49 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whoa, these sound phenomenal, and right up my alley, thank you so much. The Billionaire Boys Club immediately sounds totally terrifying (and great).

I tried Confessions of an Economic Hit Man when it came out and had a hard time getting into it but I'll try again. I loved both Some Hope & The Talented Mr Ripley, both fiction and both super. Thanks for all the suggestions (and let me know if you think of more).
posted by annabellee at 8:48 PM on July 8, 2011

Lots of great suggestions here, am going to check out several of these books. One of my favorites is Exit the Rainmaker. About a successful guy who disappeared to start a new life, leaving behind a wife. Lots of fascinating detail about how he planned it, and how he built a new life. A real page turner.
posted by daikon at 11:31 AM on July 9, 2011

Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod by Maria Flook

I haven't read this one, but have enjoyed a couple of Flook's fictional works.
posted by jayder at 12:25 PM on July 9, 2011

Oh, and not to be missed is The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere, about a man who, having failed his med school exams, nevertheless persuades his wife and family that he is an esteemed physician with the World Health Organization, leaving for work every day for years, until the lie is found out, and he kills them all.

It's a brilliantly written book.
posted by jayder at 4:41 PM on July 9, 2011

(Not positive, but I believe the first use of "bolter" in reference to spirited women (as opposed to spirited horses or party changing politicians) was Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love, which has some lightly realized bad behavior. Those Mitfords themselves were a mixed bag of upper class bad behavior if you like, though not quite what you had in mind. Asinine political opinions, chiefly. Several good books on them individually and collectively.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:28 PM on July 10, 2011

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