I'm theoretically reading The Big Con by David Maurer, a 1940 book about confidence tricksters, in particular the one using "The Big Store", an adaptable building in a large city that can become a bookies/brokers/whatever in order to best impress suckers that the illegal method of breaking the system they've stumbled into is really happening, and that they should go fetch more money to put into it. As you may gather, there are never any honest men taken by this, as a basic security procedure. Also there are strong narrative elements (the moment when the mark transfers his confidence from the guy who brought him in to the guy who's actually going to fleece him is the key to the whole enterprise), and good old-fashioned American mechanisation (the fleecers have proper appointment books indicating when is clear to brink the marks around). Also a shed-load of lingo, though nothing that tops the cackle-bladder. Unfortunately this book fell behind a radiator last Friday.
It's replacement in my affections is The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon of Kavalier and Clay fame. It's a noir of sorts, set in a world where the 1948 was of Israel vs the arab world went the other way, and a new state was set up in Alaska instead, with a time limit of 60 years. Time's nearly up, and our hero the alcoholic detective has to deal with this along with a murder in his block of flats and his ex-wife becoming his boss at the precinct. So far, so hard-boiled, but it paints well a snow-grey picture of a people not entirely unfamiliar with the idea that their world is temporary, and comfortable with the bleakness of everything winding down. Having this book as bedside reading doesn't seem to be great for springing out of bed in the morning, but the image of the 'black-hats' down in the respectable and largely criminal end of town makes cycling back from Wood Green through Stamford Hill very interesting. It's also not short of the lingo, and I wish I knew enough Yiddish to tell if any of these crunchy words are legit.