With an unlikely partnership at its heart and based on true events, Good Scammer tells the extraordinary story of Clive ‘Bangaz’ Thompson, the local hero who has turned Campbell’s Cove into the scamming capital of the world, and Willy, a broke, middle-aged writer, who needs one more bestselling novel to save him from financial ruin.
Orphaned as a baby, Bangaz has been raised with no love, no education and no prospects of decent work. After losing his job within Jamaica’s booming hotel industry, and with a baby daughter to feed, Bangaz is forced to turn elsewhere for money. He devises an ingenious business model, offering wealthy Americans an imaginary lottery win, for which they’re only too happy to pay a “small handling fee” to avoid paying tax… His plan will bring millions of dollars to the little villages around the Jamaican coast each year, making Bangaz a very wealthy man – and a hero in his community. But in building his empire, Bangaz has made some dangerous enemies, from local gangsters, to the FBI – and they’re closing in. Before it’s too late, Bangaz commissions Willy Loxley-Gordon, a washed-up English writer living nearby to write his story. Willy reluctantly agrees, recognising that this could be his last.
Compulsively readable and delivered with Guy Kennaway’s signature sense of quirky humour, Good Scammer is a transporting hymn of love to west Jamaica, which challenges our assumptions about the morality of crime, in an astute exploration of slavery, colonialism, theft and victimhood.
Based on a true story of an extraordinary criminal empire built on ingenuity, community and some serious hustle.
My thanks to Antara of FMcM Associates for the tour invite. For my turn today I have an extract to share of Chapter 1. Good Scammer is published by Mensch Publishing on 23 January 2024 in ebook and paperback.
An eleven-year-old boy called Clive ‘Bangaz’ Thompson leapt from the prow of a fishing boat onto the talcum sand of Negril. Maas Henry, a man agile in thought, word and deed, jumped out behind and waded through the shallows holding a weathered wooden sign nailed to a post. He passed it to Bangaz, who tried to stand it up in the dry dirt.
‘Mek it lie flat pon the ground.’ Maas Henry shoved it onto some roots that roped across the sand. ‘Let dem find it. You haffi lay the bait so dem cyan see no hook.’
They found a comfortable spot under the heart shaped leaves of a sea- mahoe and waited, watching the boat full of tourists leave the hotel and chug towards them.
As it arrived, Henry walked down the beach shouting, ‘Welcome one and all. Welcome ladies. Welcome Tom, Harry and Dick! I give you your official welcome to mi island paradise!’
All the tourists were white back then. Henry eyed up the women wobbling out of the boat and held up his hand to an admirably large woman in a billowing floral dress.
‘Milady. Let me help you ashore.’
Once up to her knees in the warm, clear water she tried to free her hand but Henry had it firmly gripped. He smiled at her.
‘Nice ‘at. Bangaz, hurry up carry the lady bag.’
Bangaz did as he was told. The tourists were on a $10.00 morning Island Adventure tour arranged by the hotel, which included a boat ride to a little island 500 yards from the shore, drinks and snack on the beach, and boat ride back looking for turtles. Maas Henry was nothing to do with the official tour, but was an enthusiastic joiner of any activity which looked profitable. Little Bangaz had been dragged onto a building site many times and told to start moving blocks while Maas Henry gave orders to the work- ers, both for the fun of it and so that, when the owner turned up at the end of the day, Maas Henry could point to what Bangaz had done and say, ‘Ya haffi make fair payment, slavery days done,’ enough times that he finally wore the man down and the two of them walked off with a few dollars, which Maas Henry kept.
Maas Henry made a play of brushing some imaginary dust from a bamboo bench and invited the bosomy floral woman to sit.
‘I am Robinson Crusoe and this my likkle man Friday,’ he said. ‘You come to rescue we? Or stay with me on my magical island?’
The bench looked like it might have nails sticking out of it so she held back, and anyway she didn’t want to get cornered by him.
‘I must say, this is really is idyllic. I mean, wow.’ She slowly turned away from Maas Henry and tried to get back to the group.
‘Lady,’ said Henry, who was having none of that, ‘what is your name?’ ‘Barbara.’
‘Welcome. Sit down, Barbara. You want coconut? Banana?’
‘No, er, well I think the guys from the boat have refreshments for us.’ ‘You want ganja? You want a likkle smoke?’
‘Gee, no, no, it’s a little early in the day for that.’
‘Never too early. This a Jamaica, milady!’ Maas Henry said.
She tried again to get back towards the group, who were standing round a cooler holding Red Stripes and scrunching up their eyes.
Seeing the For Sale sign on the ground, Barbara said, ‘Is that for real?’ ‘You like honey? Bees’ honey?’ Maas Henry said, pretending not to have heard. ‘I can get you the bestest honey inna de world. Mi can bring it to you at your hotel, my fine lady. Or you can come to my community and I can cook pork and chicken for you.’
‘Is this island actually for sale?’
‘That just one old sign mi grand-daddy put up when he wanted to sell the island.’
‘Oh. I guess I better go back now.’
‘Mi just chill out here,’ said Maas Henry.
Bangaz settled down near Maas Henry and watched the Jamaicans from the boat chat with the whiteys using their loud, simple tourist personas, which involved a lot of Ya mons and high fives and always laughter whatever the situation. Some of the crew performed the limbo and sword dances in the hotel lobby. It was all a fun part of the fooling of the whitey, which was the bedrock of the tourist experience; a tradition started in 1642 when a rich white man sprawling on a ball and clawfoot chair in a big house in Bristol, England, was sent the first fraudulent accounts by his plantation manager in west Jamaica.
‘Do you know about this place?’
Bangaz looked up to see a wiry white guy craning over him. Maas Henry stopped pretending he had dropped asleep and said, ‘Dis a fi mi grand-daddy piece.’
‘This is my grand-daddy land,’ he translated.
‘That lady there, she said she saw a For Sale sign. He selling up?’
‘He don’t want it cos him have to pay land tax. Government tief.’
‘Are the taxes big? May I ask what they are?’
‘Four tousan every year.’
‘Four grand? US bucks?’
‘No man. Jamaican.’
Maas Henry looked as blank and as foolish as he could, which was very when he wanted to, while he watched the whitey work out how much four thousand J was in US dollars. Henry knew the answer: thirty. ‘Mi grand-daddy kiant afford that money so him moss sell out it.’
‘It’s quite a spot he’s got here.’
It wasn’t to Bangaz. It lacked the basic requirements of a decent place: tarmac, cars, current, music, food and school.
‘Bot noboday want fi buy it. Not anybady. Grand-daddy would give it away but it give him a likkle income.’
‘Every boat that come have to have him permission to land and have to pay fee.’
‘Ten dollar a boat. So him tell me.’
The white man looked around, walking a couple of paces to his left to see further down the beach. ‘It’s all of the island, right?’
‘That’s the bad bit,’ said Maas Henry. ‘Cos people want neighbour dem. The island too lonelyish and quiet for people with no-one elkse pon de place. Island too private, you know?’ He shook his head sadly.
‘How much was your grand-daddy looking for?’
‘Ole ‘eap. Him want too much. I tell him, I say please grand-daddy don’t be so greedy. Lower the price. But him never go below fourteen tousan’ US dollars. Maybe twelve.’
A petite woman with short dark hair came over. ‘Chris, we’re going I think, if they’re not too stoned to steer the boat.’
‘Marie, look. This island’s for sale. This man’s grand-father owns it. They want twelve grand for it.’
‘Sorry, he always does this on holiday, finds some ruin and falls in love with it. Come on you.’
‘No, seriously Marie, it’s the whole island. Look I’m interested to meet the old man, if just to hear the story. Can I meet him?’
‘Him hard fi catch,’ said Maas Henry, ‘as him live deep inna de bush, but mi can’t go look for him cos mi car brok. Can you give me a help a fix mi car and mi will carry him back down to the hotel?’
‘What’s wrong with the car?’
‘Gearbox want fix.’
‘What’s wrong with it?’ Chris asked.
‘Mi drive home Sunday and hear de engine mek one rasping noise, but mi nuh take it personal. Monday afternoon mi a go up a Blenheim and it bruk dung in Dias and the car nuh move back or forwards.’
Chris rubbed his forehead.
‘Mi cya fix it,’ Maas said.
‘When? Only I’m leaving in, er…’ Chris said.
‘If me have fifty US it cya fix easy. But me don’t.’
‘Is that all it is here?’ Chris said. He caught his wife’s eye. She silently told him to pay it in a way only a couple who had been together for twenty years could communicate.
‘Come on, Chris,’ she said. ‘They’re leaving.’
‘Hang on Marie. Look. I’ll pay for that, here,’ he gave Maas Henry fifty, ‘and bring your grand-father to the Coconut Grove Hotel. I’m room…’
‘Mi will find you!’ shouted Maas Henry, ‘wid ease. Don’t worry yourself bout dat. I’m called Chris. And you are?’
This question momentarily wrongfooted Maas Henry, but after hesitating he said, ‘Mi call Henry.’
‘Okay, but we leave in a week. You will bring him, yes?’
‘Of course,’ and Maas Henry used the phrase that Bangaz knew to be a sign that things were about to get messy: ‘Nuttin can g’wrong. Trust me.’ When the two of them had pushed the tourist boat off the sand and waved goodbye, Maas Henry looked at the bank notes.
‘Memba,’ he said to Bangaz. ‘Everyting we tek from dem, dem tek from we first. Never forget that.’
Guy Kennaway is a writer of fiction and memoir, born in the UK and who has lived in Jamaica for the past 35 years. One day, a man he had known since he was a child, demanded that Guy write his life story – of how he became one of the best scammers in West Jamaica.
Guy is best known for his novels One People, about village life in Jamaica; Bird Brain, about a bunch of optimistic pheasants, and for his memoirs Time To Go about killing his mother (with her permission) and Sunbathing Naked and Other Miracle Cures. His most recent novel, The Accidental Collector, won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction in 2021. His most recent memoir is Foot Notes, a broad comedy about race and nationality which he wrote with his daughter-in-law’s brother Hussein Sharif.
In Jamaica, Guy runs a campaign called Speak Properly: Chat Patwa, encouraging the promotion of patwa as an accepted language.
‘In all my writing my aim is to delight and amuse,’ Kennaway has said. ‘Hopefully I make people laugh out loud. Laughter is our most effective weapon in the battle against the difficulties and struggles of life. If I can transport my reader to a happy, joyful world, my mission is successful.’
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