Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Review: Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding

Sometimes making a book into a movie can be the best thing for it, as it gives a book a new life, especially a book published over 30 years ago. (And the adaptation of this book was fairly accurate, if Leonardo diCaprio looks nothing like the hulking, dark-haired Abagnale, see the actual picture below in a flight uniform.)

If you don't already know, this book is the memoir of one of the most successful con men the FBI has ever seen. For three years Frank was on the lam, impersonating Pan Am pilots, a pediatrician, a lawyer, a professor, and who knows what else. But his goal in these impersonations wasn't to do those jobs and get away with it - although frequently he did - but it was a cover for the bad checks he was cashing. He had noticed that uniforms almost blind people and it was much easier for him to pass forgeries while chatting about the glamorous life of a pilot. One interesting thing is that in order for his schemes to be successful, he had to do a lot of research - he read extensively on his topics, interviewed people, and you can see that if his energies and interests had simply been directed more productively, he could have done amazing things in the world, instead of committing amazing crimes. But amazing crimes he did commit, and the story is fascinating! A few times (as the pediatrician and lawyer) he did in fact work a steady job and earn a steady paycheck. He stayed out of harm's way, never performing any medical tasks (he supervised interns on the night shift) or doing more in court than giving an opening statement (and he did pass the bar exam after all, on his third try after four months of studying), so his problem was by no means an aversion to hard work. But it was the combination of the mental challenge, and the adulation he gained from those presitgious jobs, that was lacking in his high school. Yes, high school. He was 16 when he embarked on his criminal career. A large, hirsute, heavily built man he was frequently mistaken for being 10 years older than he was, even when he wasn't trying to be.

The book is a little dated as Mr. Abagnale talks about going out with "foxes" but nothing offensive or difficult to interpret. The story clips along at a rapid pace, keeping the reader on her toes, eager to find out what happens next. With a lot of built-in suspence, you're constantly wondering how long he's going to get away with it all. Unlike in the movie, the FBI agent isn't really a big character here, and we don't know anything really about how he tracked Mr. Abagnale down, or how often he got close. And in the end, Mr. Abagnale does not go to work for the FBI - instead he's an independent consultant who works with banks and large corporations (at least if he has worked for the FBI, he didn't mention it!) And initally after his stint in federal prison (after a horrible term in a Renaissance-era French prison and a spa-like Swedish prison), he works at a grocery store, but is fired when they found out about his record when he's about to get a promotion. Movies naturally compress events, but in this case they kind of glamourized them, and I find the original more interesting in a way.

Thoroughly enjoyable, a fun beach read, I'd recommend this book to anyone who liked the movie, and anyone who likes memoirs.

I bought this book used at the Friends of the Library sale.


Julie @ Read Handed said...

I was just watching this movie the other day - it's so good! He doesn't really look anything like Leo does though, does he? That's funny. I'll have to read this book sometime to learn more. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

christa @ mental foodie said...

I enjoyed the movie but haven't read the book. I bought another book by Abagnale, I should read it! It's sitting on my shelf somewhere... don't even remember the title!

Carin Siegfried said...

@Christa, I'll bet it's either The Art of the Steal or Stealing Your Life, both are about protecting yourself from identity fraud. My BF who recommended this to me has also read Stealing Your Life (as has my step-mother) but I prefer a story, so I don't think I'll pick those up myself. But if you're at all interested in identity theft, they're supposed to be very good, too!

Teacher/Learner said...

I'm so glad you liked the book. I've been trying to get a copy of it but can't seem to find it when browsing in bookstores. The movie was so entertaining and it's interesting to see the differences between book & film as you pointed out. Thanks for the review :)