I’m a big fan of heist shows. The Sting, Catch Me If You Can, the sanctioned heists of Mission Impossible, the doing-it-for-the-little-guy heists of Leverage, the for-the-hell-of-it larceny of Hustle. Even the cons in the gods-battling-to-rule-the-world story of American Gods. I don’t imagine I’d be as enamoured of a real life attempt on my worldly goods, though I flatter myself that I’m both too honest and too smart to fall for one, but I’m all for a fictionalised con artistry.
Toni Jordan’s Fall Girl is a delightful contribution to the genre. Dr Ella Canfield is an evolutionary biologist trying to get funding for research to prove that the Tasmanian Tiger still exists – and what’s more, is living in the Mornington Peninsula. Only of course, there is no such person as Dr Ella Canfield. Della, one of a long line of elegant con artists, is just trying to relieve millionaire Daniel Metcalf of some of the funds in the Metcalf Trust. She doesn’t expect he’ll miss it, really.
It turns out, however, that there are a lot of things she doesn’t expect, but they happen anyway. Like Daniel deciding he needs to see the scientist Dr Ella in action over a weekend before he hands over the cash. Cue a crash course in outdoorsy living and scientific method. But there’s definitely some odd things going on, both at home and out bush, and Della will have her hands full trying to sort it all out before the end.
It’s hard to comment without risking massive spoilerage, but it may be sufficient to say that Della and her family of con artists find that life is a lot harder to manipulate when you’re not always sure who is lying to whom.
There’s a delicious screwball humour about the whole story of Daniel, Della and Della’s misfit family. There’s also a warm sense of bygone eras about it – that whiff of the gentleman thief, like Raffles, the roguishly charming villainy of some Cary Grant films. Della’s family, living in their ramshackle old home filled with secret doorways and hidden rooms, belongs to a more chivalrous time than the one they live in.
It’s refreshing, too, to see a heist story from the point of view of a female protagonist, Della is sharp, funny, thoughtful and clever. Joining her on the journey to discover the layers of truths behind this simple job gone complicated, and her own family.
All these layers of lies and that sense of old fashioned chivalrous thievery are central to the plot and its resolution. This makes it more than a screwball romance or a heist story – it’s also a story about people and change and belonging. But mainly it’s huge fun and very engaging !
Fall Girl by Toni Jordan is published by Text Publishing.