2 out of 4 stars
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People assume roles to meld into the society or to be able to hide secrets they do not want anyone to uncover. For ‘Reverend’ Eddie Smith, who has long abandoned his past, being a devoted husband and a kindhearted preacher are the only roles that matter in his life. He has created his own set of masks for these two roles, and by far, he has worn his masks quite well.
In Man Behind the Masks by Anne Elizabeth Nixon, the con artist Eddie poses as a Reverend to collect money from believers and wealthy people involved in charity works. He uses his eloquence and charm to bait people into donating for impoverished citizens in Zambia, Guatemala, and other places he’s actually never been. His partner-in-crime is his equally charming wife, Tilly, whose acting chops and sexiness can definitely rake in more cash. Believing that there are more people they can scam outside California, Eddie convinces Tilly to trade their life in California for a life on the road. And to get their life on the road started, Eddie then performs the best scheme in his life. He tricks the widow Eleanor into selling him her motorhome for a price way cheaper than its real market value. But as Eddie and Tilly embark on their journey, twists and turns along the way eventually lead Eddie to question whether he has worn his masks as well as he thought.
This book will be a fun read for people who love stories about con artists and those who enjoy stories written in the point of view of the antagonists. Please note that the book contains a good amount of swearing and a scene portraying murder. If these make you feel uncomfortable, then it’s best not to read the book.
Man Behind the Masks is mainly about the ups and downs in the life of a con artist as he travels with his demanding wife. The author is notably adept at describing the military pilot drills Eddie and Tilly happened to chance upon. I also appreciate how the author depicted in detail the prayer meetings Eddie attended. It would have been better if the author exerted as much effort in describing other scenes and settings. The characters drove to various cities and states in America and even went to Canada, but I couldn’t really tell the differences among these places due to the lack of descriptions.
Eddie and Tilly also tried to hoodwink a number of characters. I commend how the author managed to develop disparate supporting characters, which made the scenes featuring Eddie and Tilly’s conning business quite interesting. I did, however, observe that the author tends to use the same names for different characters. I had to jump back to past chapters to recheck if the author is referring to the same person or not. But because the author also did not provide ample descriptions of the characters, rechecking previous chapters did not help confirm anything.
The author also included Bible verses at the end of every chapter which further elaborates the religious versus sacrilegious theme of the book. I just wish all the verses reinforced the events of the chapters. Some verses did hit the mark, but some felt out of place.
Nonetheless, my biggest issue in this book are the two main characters. I just can’t like or connect with any of them. If the author intended for her main characters to be unlikable, she certainly achieved that. Apart from being a con artist, who can only portray a preacher and no other profession, Eddie did not have any redeeming quality. I cannot really consider him smart, whether book smart or street smart. He was just eloquent, and that skill has its own limits. Meanwhile, the beautiful and sexy Tilly was also merely that, beautiful and sexy. She did show some character development later in the book, but that’s a long way to go for readers. A shorter length may have been beneficial to this book since some scenes became quite repetitive toward the end. Moreover, having to read 300 pages about two unlikable characters can be a bit taxing.
I chose to read this book because its title, Man Behind Masks, definitely caught my attention. However, the ‘behind masks’ part was actually never fully explored. There were snippets regarding Eddie’s dysfunctional family, but there was no detailed discussion about his childhood experiences. Eddie clearly has psychological issues and even homicidal tendencies, but the lack of a solid background to explain these issues made his character a bit bland. The author could have described Eddie’s past experiences and thoughts more profoundly for readers to understand why he became a con artist in the first place.
This book also needs another round of editing. I observed some typos and a number of missing commas. Perhaps some parts of the narrative could also be tightened to improve the story's pacing.
Man Behind Masks is a mishmash of hits and misses which made it difficult for me to give a final evaluation. Nonetheless, there is a fair amount of positives to compensate for the negatives; thus, I’m also giving the book a fair rating of 2 out of 4 stars. Had the author delved deeper into Eddie’s mental state and past struggles, I would have given this book a higher rating.
Man Behind the Masks
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