Leverage: The Con Job by Matt Forbeck – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first Leverage novel, based on the hit TV show created by John Rogers and Chris Downey.
“Matt Forbeck strikes again in a love letter to geeks and nerds.” ~The Founding Fields
Matt Forbeck is undeniably my favourite author, and over the last one year, definitely the one I’ve read the most, with seven novels and eight comics that were all released in 2012. And 2013 is shaping up to be rather nice as well since he is wrapping up his 12-for-12 project hopefully in February and releasing the remaining eight novels of the project thereafter. 12-for-12 is his Kickstarter-funded project where he attempted to write a novel each month last year. He didn’t quite hit the mark since he had some contractual writing to do as well and he had an illness as well, but he has been speeding through on the project lately and it is going to be wrapping up as soon as already mentioned.
When Matt announced Leverage: The Con Job last year, I was quite hesitant of the book since I have never seen the show, nor have I read any TV show tie-in fiction other than a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel ages ago back in high school. But knowing that Matt was writing it, that was enough to get me to read it. Which I did. And to no one’s surprise I’m sure, I loved it.
The premise of the show, going off the little bits I’ve read on Wiki and the book itself, is that there is this group of con-men and con-women who are modern-day Robin Hoods, in that their cons are all to help people who have been taken advantage of in one way or another. In Con Job for example, the team’s tech expert Alec Hardison calls in leader Nate Ford to help an ill comics artist get his money back. Said artist has been scammed of his art prints and other related things under the guise of finding him a buyer for all of it, when all he wants to do is sell them off at an auction and keep the money for himself. From the start, this has the makings of a great story, because of the simple reason that the person the team is helping is a comics artist. Geek points there!
From there on, the story moves to sunny Calfornia as the team arrives in San Diego for the world-famous San Diego Comic Con, the biggest such con in North America, where the scammer (an aspiring but untalented artist himself) is holding his auction. And as it turns out, the team conning the scammer isn’t the be all for the story since there are much darker things in the background, because the scammer, Lorenzo Patronus, has some pretty bad people funding him. And yes, I know that’s a terrible name for someone, but hey, embrace your inner geek and all that.
What I like about this book is that it is very approachable. I have no experience with any of these characters or the world, but I felt right at home when I was reading the book. It’s very much a stand-alone book, and I love that aspect of it since it was one of my concerns when I picked it up. This is a good thing in that it helps to draw readers in and makes them comfortable in the experience. For a certain percentage of these readers, such as me, it also creates an interest in watching the TV series itself. It does come recommended to me! Matt certainly gets points for that too.
The characters are definitely the highlight of the book. Given the large cast, there isn’t enough time spent with them all, particularly Nate and Sophie, but we get to see quite a bit of Eliot and Alec, and these two guys are perfect. If these two ever became the stars of a “buddy-cop” style novel/movie/TV series, I’d be all up for that. Alec in particularly because The Con Job is a geek’s delight, given where it takes place. Not to mention the cameos by Stan Lee, Warren Ellis, and Jim Lee, who are all some of the biggest names in comics for the last several years (Stan in particular is practically ancient). And that’s where Matt Forbeck really grabs the pulse of the story: connecting this ginormous geek experience, the SDCC, and connecting it to the Leverage characters as he does. Whether it’s Alec talking all the time about geek solidarity and geek culture, or Parker expressing an interest in geeky stuff to spend more time with Alec, or Eliot and Alec talking about one of Eliot’s impersonations for the con the team is putting in place, this book is filled to the brim with all things geeky.
Not to mention that Matt makes an off-screen cameo to sign Alec’s copy of Magic: The Gathering, one of the comics that Matt released last year through IDW Publishing (and which I’ve read and reviewed already). As someone who’s enjoyed the comic, and it’s sequel mini-series, I loved the little reference.
Another thing I liked about the book is the extent that it goes to make SDCC come alive in my imagination. I’ll be honest, I’ve been wanting to go there for about nine months now. I really want to go there. In lieu of not being able to go there, yet, this book is the next best thing. Matt describes the area and the community around the convention center. He has scenes at a Star Trek evening party which is attended by the entire The Next Generation cast. Alec always has his geek-fu on. We see pedo-cab chariot races in the streets between the team members (Matt has told me that he’s done this), a scene which I love for how much good fun it is to imagine that. He has those cameos I mentioned. A couple cosplayers, an Imperial Stormtrooper and Slave Leia, also make an appearance that is quite vital to the entire climax. We have a bad guy give pointers on how to make good Stormtrooper armour. We have mentions of mangas as a comics-alternative art form. Various TV shows and movies are mentioned as well, as part of the event itself. And so much more, not the least of which is the mention of the Hero Initiative, a comics industry charity group/movement that strives to create a healthy environment for comics creators when they are out of work and unable to support themselves, to put it simply. The fact that Lorenzo Patronus uses the Hero Initiative as part of his scam highlights, in a way, how important this whole project is. I really want to go to SDCC and see the real deal for myself.
The relationships between the various characters, Nate and Sophie, Nate and Alec, Alec and Parker, Alec and Eliot, Alec and Cha0s, Cha0s and Eliot (that’s a zero there, not an ‘o’) are also what take the book to the next level. Not sure how much of this can be attributed to the show itself, but I liked how Matt portrays these relationships. They are all emotional, tense relationships and it’s really fun to see how all of it plays out. One particular thing I’d like to mention is how often Cha0s is afraid of Eliot, and their big pretend combat was another showstopper scene.
Another aspect of this is how he portrays the connect/disconnect between geeks and non-geek people. Alec and Eliot are perfect examples of these two sides and the conflict that thrives upon such a match as theirs. He uses the constant arguments between the two of them on the subject to highlight that pretty much everyone has had an “introduction” to geek culture, whether they want to admit it or not. TV shows, movies, audiobooks etc, it’s all there.
What it all boils down to is that Leverage: The Con Job is a book that is written by a die-hard geek for geeks of all colours and flavours and types and preferences and what not. This is a book that celebrates being a geek, gives some important advice as a freelancer in the comics industry and includes commentary on some of the recent shakeups in the industry. I loved the book, what else can I say? With great pacing, great action, great cameos, great story, this is a book that I really would recommend.