The Con Job
is a tie-in novel for the (now sadly cancelled) show "Leverage," which is about five criminals who break the law in order to punish the rich and powerful, people who steal from others yet cannot be held accountable by legal means. The show was a fun romp, made more enjoyable by the character dynamics and the banter rather than the twists at the end showing how they pulled off each con, so I wasn't going into it expecting a wildly clever mystery story. And Forbeck seems to get why "Leverage" is well loved, because he capitalizes on the humor and quirkiness of the characters rather than trying too hard to bait-and-switch us with the story. The very premise is snug in the show's wheelhouse about a corrupt art auctioneer who swindles poor comic book freelancers and plans to sell off his profits at Comic Con, eschewing the more straight played corporate villains for the over the top appeal of people dressed up in spandex and a villain who takes his name from Harry Potter spells.
This set up gives a pretty clear indication of whether or not you'll like this story. For me, my favorite group of thieves and the pop culture Mecca of my dreams come together? Where even the title is a clever pun? Sign me up!
And I do say this: as a Leverage fan, it was fun
to read. The chapters are short and breezy. You can see there is a familiarity with the characters, and a lot of the snappy comebacks and character interactions are well written here. In fact, this is probably one of the better dynamics I've gotten from Nate and Sophie in regards to their complicated relationship. If you don't think too much about the logistics, you'll find yourself tearing through it, waiting for the next one liner or team moment.
However, enjoyment can be somewhat detracted by the narrative's contradictions, both in the show and its previous set up. One example is as giving us fifty pages of Hardison's passion for all things Comic Con then a line about "whereas Hardison cultivated an air of coolness, Cha0s embraced his geekiness" which is flagrantly the furthest thing from Hardison's Star Trek loving fanboy heart. I can guess the author meant that Hardison had social skills to be likeable aside from his geek interests and Cha0s is just an awful human being, but there are a lot of these narrative comments about personality that are the opposite of previous established motives.
Another running example is Parker being alternatively described as an innocent and supremely guarded (but, to be fair, the show was guilty of not knowing which direction to pick with her), or Eliot's gruff too-cool-for-this-shit exterior belying a soft spot for some of the more mainstream geekiness, which I understand is supposed to show his reluctance to admit anything that might be less than dignified, especially when it is introduced to him by Hardison's enthusiasm for it, but the narration flips in handling it so it seems more schizophrenic at times than Eliot being secretly nerdy.
I think a lot of the novel's problems comes from how unpolished it feels. There are statements of the narrative that get jolted into expository flashbacks and shunt back into the plot with little transition. There are sentences that contradict previously stated character moments, or get a little redundant. Some of them seem vaguely in comprehensible, like a good editor forgot a word to parse it together. It feels rushed for a professional endeavor, basically. Like a promising first draft that sadly never got the beta reading to make it great. Or well invested fanfiction.
For example, many of the plot problems come from minor tics. Such as the use of pseudonyms. Now, it's in character for Hardison to make geeky references on a con, but this novel has him using comic book aliases in a comic book convention
and the villain does it too, which is nitpicky but a really bad start at making this seem plausible if nobody is even trying to be subtle about it. At the same time, "Leverage" has had its moments of needing to suspend disbelief over a large canyon, so show runner fans might give those logistical gaps a pass from criticism.
Another issue, which can also be seen as a strength, is how much you can tell the author is a fan of the genre he's describing. These offhanded references to BleedingCool.com or well known artists like Alex Ross and Jim Lee are nice winks to fellow fans like me, I enjoyed knowing all the tidbits being thrown in, but someone reading it for the story might get sick of all these random asides that really don't further the plot and might only confuse them more, such as the constant comments about Will Wheaton (who plays Cha0s in "Leverage" but was also in Star Trek). The novel would have done a lot better to incorporate the geek culture of comics and the con in a more seamless fashion than constant references and some vague acknowledgements from the rest of the crew about how it affected them. However, I personally loved some of those moments and felt they contributed more than took away when collectively measured.
Overall, it's definitely not a novel I would recommend to readers who didn't already know and love Leverage. There was a lot of stuff to enjoy from The Con Job
but it comes from a pre-existing love of the characters and scenario that can gloss over the clunky moments of writing or plot development. Still, that love is very palpable and the tone of the novel is a glowing fond one that doesn't condescend to its audience.