Monday, June 15, 2009

Don't Call Me a Crook: A Scotsman's Tale of World Travel, Whiskey and Crime by Bob Moore - 256 pgs

Book CoverBob Moore wants his readers to know that he is not a thief. He just takes the opportunities that have been presented to him, even if that means he has to do a little swindling and lying, but he most certainly is not a thief. This vivid memoir, written in 1935, displays Moore in all his unique glory. From his stint as Chief Engineer on a luxury yacht of the restlessly rich to his snatching of a sack full of diamonds, Moore relates his almost unbelievable tale in a theatrical and over-the-top style. As he winds his way from Glasgow to New York to China, Moore unfailingly finds himself in odd and lucrative situations. His boundless pluck in circumstances like his wildly unsuccessful job in elevator repair or his elaborate duping of a mysterious woman on a train remains a constant throughout his tale. With an attitude as abrasive as sandpaper and no morals of which to speak, his adventures not only astound in the fact that they happened, but in the fact that he got out of them alive. Moore never seems to lose his cool but rather seems to gain someone else's property, no matter what is happening to him. Some of the insights in his story are telling asides of the times in which they were written, giving an almost birds-eye view of the events unfolding during the 1930's and 40's. Whether or not you like this audacious man, it becomes evident that Bob Moore is not only a con man's con man, but a man who can spin a yarn with the best of them.

I was a little uncertain of what to expect with this book. Would it be uproariously funny or would his antics be too reckless to be enjoyable? What I found was a pleasant surprise. Though it's not very literary, Moore's book seems to capture his vitality and pluck in a way that immediately enmeshes his reader. Moore sidles his way around a story, and often the reader is left wondering about his actual complicity in the unlikely events that he seems to continuously find himself in. Yet at times this often funny tale veers into much darker territory, capturing a grit and intensity of a life lived without apologies.

I found that although I could never stomach a man like Moore in person, reading about him was a quite different matter and it was entertaining in a way that I found unexpected. I savored the intensity of the story but I didn't want to get too close. Moore always came across as disarmingly frank, yet he also has a secretive side and didn't always tell the whole story or let on all he knew about the events he was involved in. Often I was left wondering if Moore really was the lovable reprobate that he wanted his readers to believe he was or if the reality was much more ominous. I noticed that many who tangled with the man met with mysterious accidents or acts of sabotage and that those events were always related with a certain satisfaction, which left me wondering about Moore's capacity for vengeance.

Though he mostly came across as very charming and affable, there were moments when his attitude floated into the realm of racism and violence; I found those sections of his narrative were curiously left unexplored and unexamined. On the other hand, the sheer non-stop adventure of his tale left me at times incredulous. I found myself constantly asking if it was possible for this much mayhem to really have existed in Moore's life or if these were just a collection of exaggerated adventures meant to regale. After awhile though, I simply got too involved with his tales of adventure to speculate on these things and started wondering what his next move was going to be.

There was much to enjoy about this book, from the easy rapport that Moore establishes in his recollections to the insanity of some of the situations he places himself in. The only problem I had with the book was that it was not written in a very conversational or literary style. At times it reads almost like a detailed list of exploits, with a dearth of dialogue or description to smooth out the story. Although there was a sufficient amount of action and excitement to attract even the most finicky reader, the delivery was a bit rough.

This book was bold and exciting in a way that I wouldn't have expected by just glancing at the cover or reading a blurb. I came to enjoy the company of this sketchy little man, and I think that readers who are looking for a little variety and color in their memoirs would find a lot to love here. Is Moore just a teller of tall tales, or is there more to the life of this grifter then what's to be expected? Give this book a read, and then decide for yourself.


Steph said...

This sounds like fun, if only because most memoirs tend to be depressing and morose! It's nice to hear about one where the person seemed to have some fun!

Ana S. said...

I'm currently reading this, and though he's definitely not someone I'd want to be friends with, I'm enjoying it. I'll come back to read your review in more detail when I'm done!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

What a title...LOL I like memoirs. Thanks 4 the post.

Marie Cloutier said...

Oy, I read this too (or part of it) but didn't like it nearly so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it though! I'm definitely in the minority based on other blogs.

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