Books: The Stung

THE SILVER BEARS by PAUL ERDMAN 260 pages. Scribner's. $6.95.

Like the Mississippi, the swindle theme runs deep, wide and muddy through the heart of American literature. Melville navigated the subject on the river boat Fidele, which he filled with assorted rascals for his novel The Confidence Man. It was no coincidence that in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn the shuck and the flim-flam cut across racial and class lines, from Nigger Jim's magical hair ball to the King and the Duke's pretentious ripoffs.

Today the con game is bigger, more complex and even respectable. The...

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