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Matchstick Men: A Novel about Grifters with Issues

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Roy and Frankie are matchstick men — con artists. Partners in crimes for years, they know each other like brothers and have perfected their games. Roy is the careful one, saves every penny. Frankie is the greedy one, always in debt, needing another big score. Roy is distracted by the discovery of a teenage daughter from a brief short marriage. She's affectionate, sweet, an Roy and Frankie are matchstick men — con artists. Partners in crimes for years, they know each other like brothers and have perfected their games. Roy is the careful one, saves every penny. Frankie is the greedy one, always in debt, needing another big score. Roy is distracted by the discovery of a teenage daughter from a brief short marriage. She's affectionate, sweet, and wants to learn the family business. Different than the film starring Nicholas Cage, still a surprise twist ending.


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Roy and Frankie are matchstick men — con artists. Partners in crimes for years, they know each other like brothers and have perfected their games. Roy is the careful one, saves every penny. Frankie is the greedy one, always in debt, needing another big score. Roy is distracted by the discovery of a teenage daughter from a brief short marriage. She's affectionate, sweet, an Roy and Frankie are matchstick men — con artists. Partners in crimes for years, they know each other like brothers and have perfected their games. Roy is the careful one, saves every penny. Frankie is the greedy one, always in debt, needing another big score. Roy is distracted by the discovery of a teenage daughter from a brief short marriage. She's affectionate, sweet, and wants to learn the family business. Different than the film starring Nicholas Cage, still a surprise twist ending.

30 review for Matchstick Men: A Novel about Grifters with Issues

  1. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I hadn't seen the movie version, so I went into this book without knowing much about it. It's a book about con men and the schemes they pull. I kind of guessed what was going on after the incident at the pharmacy, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment of the story. That ending! :(

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Pramik

    My first foray into Garcia’s literary landscape was Repo Men. So after perusing the fictional escapades of a Bio-repo man, I wondered what other bizarre character combinations Garcia had up his sleeve. How about an OCD con man? That sounds like it might work nicely. And it does. Matchstick Men (yes, there is a film adaptation for this novel, too) focuses on two con men (also known as matchstick men), Roy and Frankie, who have been lifelong pals. Life is just fine, even comfortable, although Roy s My first foray into Garcia’s literary landscape was Repo Men. So after perusing the fictional escapades of a Bio-repo man, I wondered what other bizarre character combinations Garcia had up his sleeve. How about an OCD con man? That sounds like it might work nicely. And it does. Matchstick Men (yes, there is a film adaptation for this novel, too) focuses on two con men (also known as matchstick men), Roy and Frankie, who have been lifelong pals. Life is just fine, even comfortable, although Roy suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Still, as long as he keeps things in check and takes his meds, he can tackle any job, from simple scams to bigger game, which Frankie tries to rope him into throughout the course of the novel. Then Garcia heaves the proverbial curveball. Or sucker punch, is more like it. Through sessions with his psychiatrist, Roy learns he has a teenage daughter, Angela, from a now-defunct marriage. Roy isn’t sure how his worlds will mesh – his proper public face and his con man ways - but he knows Angela can’t discover the latter. That becomes the primary tension-builder for the bulk of the story – will Angela find out her dad is a con man, not an honest antiques dealer as he claims? It seems like a simple premise but it works, especially when the truth leaks out. Though it’s not the only truth Roy realizes, both about himself and about some people he thought he could trust. I can’t say any more lest it spoil the ending. But trust me – it’s quite a shocker. Essentially, the novel is one cleverly plotted con (and I mean that in a very complimentary way) The cast here is sparse but it allows for these few characters to develop. There are no stock figures either, which is definitely a big plus for me. Roy might be a criminal but he’s not violent or crude. He’s easy to feel sorry for and it’s hard not to feel his confusion when he tries his best to reconnect with Angela. Garcia seems to have a knack for making his characters flawed yet sympathetic without turning them pathetic. This rang true for Repo Men and it still holds together just as strongly in Matchstick Men. Likewise, there are thematic similarities in both books. No, there are no issues about the ethical nature of organ repossession but there is the underlying current of moral conflict. Roy is morally-flawed (you essentially have to be to be a con man) but he strives to at least want to do the right thing when he can. This really shines once Angela appears and Roy struggles with being the best influence he can and to make up for lost time. His battle with the devil on his shoulder emerges in his relationship with Frankie, too. Frankie likes to fish for big game and take chances, but Roy feels the risk isn’t worth it. The fact he questions some of the cons they set up shows he has a moral center; it just doesn’t speak up as loudly as it should most of the time. Once more, I loved this aspect about Garcia’s writing. His characters are not angels, which makes them relatable in terms of the moral issues they struggle with. Roy might be a con man but he has a heart, which means he’s not entirely lost. Garcia’s characters dance around a desire for redemption, and while it never comes packaged as a heavenly light-infused epiphany, it works for the world and characters he creates. Matchstick Men is no exception. Roy finds a sense of redemption in the end as (view spoiler)[a sacrificial act he commits (hide spoiler)] genuinely moved me and solidified my concern for and enjoyment of his character. Writing-wise, the style is true to Garcia’s other works – conversational without being condescending and poignant without being pretentious. One unique narrative feature of Matchstick Men is that it is told entirely in present tense (i.e. instead of “He walked into a bar” it reads “He walks into a bar”). The use of present tense is an interesting choice and I can’t think of any other book I have that uses it the way Matchstick Men employs it. It took me by surprise when I started reading but I certainly wasn’t thrown off by it. I liked it and found it to be a nice change of pace. Content-wise, there are no major concerns, so it’s a good choice for older teen readers and adults. (Anyone younger probably wouldn’t be interested.) There are no vulgarities or sexual situations except random strong profanities and infrequent remarks by men admiring the female body. The latter are far from graphic and only occur sporadically. I was actually impressed by the lack of caveats here and it’s good to see that not all writers try to shock their audiences with unnecessary snuff. Matchstick Men was a speedy read and I didn’t want to finish it because I was enjoying it too much. Much like Repo Men, it grabbed me from the start and held me until the final page. The ending was a shocker that had me reviewing previous chapters to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. It’s not a big, flashy novel with pulse-driving action, but it holds its own and was a pleasure to read. Once more, Eric Garcia has not failed to impress or move me. This is a great piece of contemporary writing that possesses a strong, sympathetic, and morally-conflicted central character who discovers he’s not a bad man after all. It’s definitely a worthy read and will keep you glued until the final page…even though you learn that you, yourself, just got conned.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John Keats

    4.5/5. Matchstick Men was a movie I watch when I was around 9-10, and almost 8 years later I decided to pick up the book. Having forgotten the plot of the film I really enjoyed the book and that ending! It left me feeling angry and sympathetic but also really glad that it ended the way it did. It was the perfect melancholic ending. The characters of Frankie, Roy, and Angela are really well fleshed out and we really grow a liking to all three. The book is fairly short in length, but it is a good 4.5/5. Matchstick Men was a movie I watch when I was around 9-10, and almost 8 years later I decided to pick up the book. Having forgotten the plot of the film I really enjoyed the book and that ending! It left me feeling angry and sympathetic but also really glad that it ended the way it did. It was the perfect melancholic ending. The characters of Frankie, Roy, and Angela are really well fleshed out and we really grow a liking to all three. The book is fairly short in length, but it is a good length; the perfect length. Now, off to watch the movie...again.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Casey Hampton

    A quick read that lacks depth. But still, it's kind of fun... well, maybe not precisely. I was ready for the story to be over, and was sourly disappointed with the ending. So maybe I'd call this a greasy spoon burger book. On the cover, it states "Grifters with issues." This made me laugh, then it prompted me to lookup the word. It's a good word. If you don't know it, slide that fat dictionary off the shelf and put it to use. Wait. Do folks still use dictionaries and bookshelves? I do, but I'm no A quick read that lacks depth. But still, it's kind of fun... well, maybe not precisely. I was ready for the story to be over, and was sourly disappointed with the ending. So maybe I'd call this a greasy spoon burger book. On the cover, it states "Grifters with issues." This made me laugh, then it prompted me to lookup the word. It's a good word. If you don't know it, slide that fat dictionary off the shelf and put it to use. Wait. Do folks still use dictionaries and bookshelves? I do, but I'm not the typical techno-wizard with a pocketful of Google. This book is all about cons. Cons within cons within cons. The pacing is brisk, the writing is somewhat clipped, and the story turns stale the more you read. I was hoping for characters with a bit more depth, but we can't have everything we want. In the end, this book was like eating a cheap cheeseburger topped with pale lank lettuce and thick loose slabs of aging onions. The first bite tastes good because you're starved. You happily bolt down the pieces of meat and bun, knowing you should slow down but not caring. You're a'hungry. You guzzle bubbling Coke from a sweating finger smudged glass, mash greasy fries between salty lips, and then bury your teeth in the burger again. During mastication, you experience a fat and sodium food high. When you finally push away from that scuffed Formica and slump back in that fat-bottom booth, its sunk coils a bit too forgiving, heartburn is already slinking in at the edges. But sometimes, it's okay to eat a meal like this, or read a book like this. You just don't want to make it a regular thing. Despite my 2-star rating, I still had fun, or something akin to fun. If you're looking for a quick rainy-day kind of read, this will do the trick nicely.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tricia

    I really enjoyed this book! The pacing was good although there were times when I wondered where things were going, however, it all helped to pull everything together in the end. I never thought I would feel bad for a con man! I truly felt for Roy and everything he went through and his fate, there is a real lesson here about knowing who your real friends are and being able to read people well. It's often the things and people right in front of us that can be the most blinding.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rottgrl88

    This wasn't absolutely fantastic but I still liked it. I wasn't a huge fan of all the characters but the ending was definitely a plot twist which I didn't see coming. All of that mixed with the slow pacing just waiting for something to happen and make sense, I can't rate this one high. It could've been executed better! This wasn't absolutely fantastic but I still liked it. I wasn't a huge fan of all the characters but the ending was definitely a plot twist which I didn't see coming. All of that mixed with the slow pacing just waiting for something to happen and make sense, I can't rate this one high. It could've been executed better!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Emilia

    Not a bad story per se, but I've read and watched enough grifter stories to predict how this one was going to end. I'm not a big "I'm going to outsmart this story," person, either. There was just an image that made my brain flash onto the answer. I guess that's what people mean when they talk about "telegraphing the ending?" I love con men, though. I'll still see the movie just for fun.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    I guessed the ending fairly early on, or I might have rated this higher. But finding out the details kept me interested to the end.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Fast, funny, quick-witted. A great summer read. I listened to this on CD, narrated expertly by Stanley Tucci. It made me look forward to the commute.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Mayer

    Another book I read long ago, purchased from a secondhand store and then never read for about 15 years. Loved the movie, remembered loving the book when I first read it, and it holds up. It's still a good long-con mystery that moves right along and has you rooting for these bad guys to pull off score after score. But, and this is rare - the movie did it better. The differences between the book and the movie were all beneficial, especially the less open-ending ended that wraps things up, unlike t Another book I read long ago, purchased from a secondhand store and then never read for about 15 years. Loved the movie, remembered loving the book when I first read it, and it holds up. It's still a good long-con mystery that moves right along and has you rooting for these bad guys to pull off score after score. But, and this is rare - the movie did it better. The differences between the book and the movie were all beneficial, especially the less open-ending ended that wraps things up, unlike the book where it just leaves you thinking...something will happen. Like with most book-to-movie adaptations, I recommend reading the book first and then watching the movie. Which is what I plan to do.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    I read this in about 2002 and remembered liking it but the movie obviously took first position in my mind since 2003. This holds up nicely but it's a fascinating study in adaptation, which I won't go into too much here for spoilery reasons. On its own, this is a very smart, gritty and at times stark look at grifters worthy of...well, The Grifters. The cons here are very clever but not too clever like in bad con men stories where the whole world would have to be in on it to make it work. The fath I read this in about 2002 and remembered liking it but the movie obviously took first position in my mind since 2003. This holds up nicely but it's a fascinating study in adaptation, which I won't go into too much here for spoilery reasons. On its own, this is a very smart, gritty and at times stark look at grifters worthy of...well, The Grifters. The cons here are very clever but not too clever like in bad con men stories where the whole world would have to be in on it to make it work. The father-daughter relationship has more resonance than it did 17 years ago as I have a daughter now. This made Roy relatable, which was interesting given he's a small time criminal. Check out the book and check out the movie too. Fascinating to see the translation.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gary E

    Having seen the movie the book was a bit anticlimactic. However it is a good well written quick read/listen. The story is compelling and the characters are great. If you have not seen the movie this is well worth reading/listening to. You would have to be a fan of the movie for me to recommend reading this. The main reason I read this is I have been sick with (among other things) an ear infection that is messing with my ability to read for more than a few minutes. As a result a friend dropped off Having seen the movie the book was a bit anticlimactic. However it is a good well written quick read/listen. The story is compelling and the characters are great. If you have not seen the movie this is well worth reading/listening to. You would have to be a fan of the movie for me to recommend reading this. The main reason I read this is I have been sick with (among other things) an ear infection that is messing with my ability to read for more than a few minutes. As a result a friend dropped off a bunch of audio books and this was one.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Darra

    I wanted to be shocked by this plot, but unfortunately I feel like I've read it several times before. I did appreciate the chapters in reverse order--for what that's worth, anyway. I don't find myself having too much to say here.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    Excellent book! I love a good book/movie about con-men. The story moved along at a nice pace and always kept me wanting more. I listened to the audio book so there were a couple of days when I got home from work I stayed in the car to finish a track/chapter. Now I need to see the movie!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    There's a point less than halfway through where the author recklessly telegraphs the twist ending, which is a real bummer. The novel features some riveting cons and memorable moments, but the plot is undermined by some glaring holes.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rick Hammond

    Saw the ending coming very quickly, but it was a fun journey

  17. 4 out of 5

    Deyth Banger

    Genius... unique... great and brilliant... Fucking damn brilliant plot and storylines....

  18. 4 out of 5

    Smi4ever2

    I really enjoyed this book. A great author.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sam Westelman

    Quick and fun read. Must suspend belief a bit but being thin on details/sophistication is what makes it quick and fun so 'no harm, no foul.' Read it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Buchanan

    Really good book. Time to watch the movie for class. I wonder how they pulled it off on screen.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    I have the movie Matchstick Men coming soon on Netflix. And with a long car ride upcoming, I decided to pick this book up on tape (I actually didn't even know this was a book). I ended up really enjoying it. Garcia does a fantastic job writing this. There is a nice mix of humor, action, suspense, and relationships in the book. What is most impressive is his character development. Roy is a con man. At one point he steals over $6,000 from a mother of five. Everything in her bank account is just go I have the movie Matchstick Men coming soon on Netflix. And with a long car ride upcoming, I decided to pick this book up on tape (I actually didn't even know this was a book). I ended up really enjoying it. Garcia does a fantastic job writing this. There is a nice mix of humor, action, suspense, and relationships in the book. What is most impressive is his character development. Roy is a con man. At one point he steals over $6,000 from a mother of five. Everything in her bank account is just gone. It is revealed later that he has over four million dollars in a Swiss bank account all of which has been either stolen from honest people or made through other illegal methods. So I should hate this guy right? Wrong! Despite his flaws, I was hoping for a happy ending for him. I was hoping that when he finally got out of the game at the end, he could live an honest life with his daughter. What keeps Matchstick Men from being a five-star book is that there are just too many loose ends and unanswered questions. How long had Frank been planning to con Roy? Who all was in on the con? And just who really was Angela? I'm fine with some unanswered questions, but these just made the ending feel rushed. So much happened in the last chapter or two that it was hard to tell what was going on at points. An additional chapter tying it all together would have been great. Or even better, an additional book from Frank's perspective that gives us a look into just what went into the final long con.

  22. 5 out of 5

    An Odd1

    "Matchstick Men" by Eric Garcia is about "grifters with issues", and a different ending from the Nicholas Cage film changes the whole meaning. Brilliant con-man Roy, putting on weight, adding compulsive rituals, constantly bile-nauseated, is berated by his long-time partner Frankie, always in debt, wanting more scams. New psychiatrist Dr Klein, tracks down Roy's unknown daughter Angela, now 14. She wants to learn the business. Klein doesn't write prescriptions for pill bottles handed out freely. "Matchstick Men" by Eric Garcia is about "grifters with issues", and a different ending from the Nicholas Cage film changes the whole meaning. Brilliant con-man Roy, putting on weight, adding compulsive rituals, constantly bile-nauseated, is berated by his long-time partner Frankie, always in debt, wanting more scams. New psychiatrist Dr Klein, tracks down Roy's unknown daughter Angela, now 14. She wants to learn the business. Klein doesn't write prescriptions for pill bottles handed out freely. What should be Roy's last job goes drastically wrong. (view spoiler)[ The pills are sugar. Frankie brought in Klein and a girl well over 14 to convince Roy to give up his Cayman account and password. The book ends with Roy giving his last money away to kids trying on one of his old card tricks, leaving none for his cafe meal. He has changed, but we are not sure how. The film had Roy happy and respectable, working and involved romantically with a local cashier, forgiving the chance-met Angela (with the squandering same-old Frankie), considering the money well spent on buying himself a satisfying future. He is a new and better man. (hide spoiler)]

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    At times predictable but obviosly written with compassion and love. Roy suffers from OCD and his obsessions are interfering with his life as a grifter (conman, bull-runner, etc.) Many plot twists later and you have a satisfying ending and a smidge of moral compass toward the end. This is not perfect, some of the plot twists are easily figured out, even early on, however Garcia is an engaging writer with wit and a tremendous ability to create atmosphere and build a setting in the mind. I enjoyed t At times predictable but obviosly written with compassion and love. Roy suffers from OCD and his obsessions are interfering with his life as a grifter (conman, bull-runner, etc.) Many plot twists later and you have a satisfying ending and a smidge of moral compass toward the end. This is not perfect, some of the plot twists are easily figured out, even early on, however Garcia is an engaging writer with wit and a tremendous ability to create atmosphere and build a setting in the mind. I enjoyed this book and have just gotten his next novel. Highly recommended, the flaws are easily ignored in place of interesting and fleshed out characters and a half-novel/half-mystery.

  24. 5 out of 5

    M

    When you are a con artist, trust becomes an important issue. Eric Garcia explore this idea through professional con men Roy and Frankie. Roy is the more neurotic of the pair, finding himself downing pills in order to beat back his OCD; Frankie is a free-spender, more than willing to play the con if the score is big enough. During a visit to his psychiatrist, Roy discovers the daughter he never knew in 14-year-old Angela. As Angela weasels into Roy's life, Frankie worries there may be more to thi When you are a con artist, trust becomes an important issue. Eric Garcia explore this idea through professional con men Roy and Frankie. Roy is the more neurotic of the pair, finding himself downing pills in order to beat back his OCD; Frankie is a free-spender, more than willing to play the con if the score is big enough. During a visit to his psychiatrist, Roy discovers the daughter he never knew in 14-year-old Angela. As Angela weasels into Roy's life, Frankie worries there may be more to this girl than meets the eye. A sadly poignant tale about deception and half-truths that plays on humanity innate trusting nature; a great read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

    You can't con a con man or can you? This novel was a great rainy day weekend read. It describes the life of a con man/grifter who discovers he has a teenage daughter. The realization makes him think twice abuot his lifestyle. Roy has to deal with some "mental illness" and the easy money made with cons vs. a stable job to provide for his child. His "pal" Frankie tries to steer him into continuing the game. The book was also made into a movie with Nicholas Cage, but I never saw the whole thing. If You can't con a con man or can you? This novel was a great rainy day weekend read. It describes the life of a con man/grifter who discovers he has a teenage daughter. The realization makes him think twice abuot his lifestyle. Roy has to deal with some "mental illness" and the easy money made with cons vs. a stable job to provide for his child. His "pal" Frankie tries to steer him into continuing the game. The book was also made into a movie with Nicholas Cage, but I never saw the whole thing. If you want a fast paced reading book - you won't be disappointed with Matchstick Men.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carlee

    Matchstick Men was a great book, about a con artist. The ending is so surprising that I had to go back and skim some sections just to make sure I didn't miss something earlier, that there weren't clues or hints. That's all I can really say about the book without giving away anything, so go read it. Recommended!! Although the people at Amazon don't seem to like it. Unfortunately, I finished the book about 5 minutes before learning that my house was burgularized and that my laptop was stolen...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Quite often when an author creates a character that is more complicated than the world around him it tends to make for a boring plot. This is far from the case in Matchstick Men. You're going through this (seemingly) realitively simplistic cat-and-mouse con artist world with a protragonist that is anything but simple. Great story, great character development and it keeps you guessing until the end. Far better than the movie, too.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Isaac

    This was another short book that I just grabbed at the library. I remember wanting to see the movie but I never got around to it. It was pretty good. There were some good twists. I was able to foresee most of them, but not to the point or ruining it. The story is about two con men who are partners and how they played The Big C. Anyway for a casual read it was good. It had some language if that bothers you.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    I had this figured out about 3 chapters in. I don't know if I liked this book or not. I have a hard time believing that Roy could be so clueless about everything going on around him and him being a con man for years and years. Maybe it was his "illness" and the lack of meds. I don't know. It moved pretty quick and was not a long book. It just left me with a bad taste in my mouth and feeling a bit annoyed and, well, conned...lol.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This was one of the few exceptions to the general rule that the book is better than the movie. Perhaps it is because it is shorter (226 pages) and thus, the character development wasn't as significant, or perhaps it is more fun to watch the magic of "slight of hand" card tricks and cons. I'm not sure. However, the book was entertaining enough and the perfect light read for the subway or the beach. You'll finish it pretty quickly, and have the same satisfaction as reading any other short story.

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