The Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History

Margalit Fox. Random House, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-984853-84-4

Fox (Conan Doyle for the Defense), a former obituary writer for the New York Times, recounts in this marvelous history how two British army officers in WWI orchestrated “the most singular prison break ever recorded.” Seeking to alleviate the monotony of life at the remote Yozgad prison camp in Turkey, British POWs built a Ouija board from salvaged materials. After numerous failed attempts to raise a spirit, Elias Henry Jones, “the Oxford-educated son of a British lord,” began manipulating the board, convincing his compatriots that they were conversing with the dead. Intended merely as a lark, Jones’s game became a more serious affair when a Turkish officer asked if the board could help him find a buried treasure. Jones partnered with Cedric Waters Hill, an Australian pilot and “master magician,” to devise a complex scheme to trick the camp commandant into sending them to Constantinople, where they spent six months feigning madness in an insane asylum before being repatriated. Fox enriches her account with intriguing deep dives into the psychology of “coercive persuasion,” the mechanics of confidence games, and the history of spiritualism in the U.S. and England. Readers will be mesmerized by this rich and rewarding tale. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman. (June)