A Deal with the Devil: The Dark and Twisted True Story of One of the Biggest Cons in History

Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken. Atria, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-6384-5
In this meandering true crime account, journalists Ellis and Hicken investigate a decades-long international mail scam that bilked over $200 million from its 1.4 million victims in the United States alone. The mastermind behind it all was an elusive, self-proclaimed psychic who went by the alias Maria Duval and has never been apprehended. The authors, who first wrote about Duval for CNN in 2016, detail the methodology of her scam, which dates to at least the 1980s and involved mailing personalized letters to recipients, whose names and addresses Duval purchased from data brokers. Their investigation leads to a bizarre cast of characters, including a gun-toting U.S. postal inspector hell-bent on shutting down the scam, an alien-worshipping businessman whose companies distributed Duval’s mass mailings, and a handful of zany psychics. The book gets sidetracked by frustrating dead ends in the inquiry—a chapter devoted entirely to a psychic named Patrick Guerin, for example, ends abruptly when the journalists receive no reply to one brief e-mail. While the authors never conclusively identify the person behind the Maria Duval alias, they provide an entertaining exposé of an epic episode from the chronicles of consumer fraud. (July)
Reviewed on: 04/30/2018
Release date: 08/07/2018
Ebook - 978-1-5011-6386-9
Book - 978-1-5011-6385-2
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