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Jenice Armstrong | The art of the steal

Was this book 'Bonnie & Clyde's' bible?

WHEN YOU READ the following, consider the so-called "Bonnie and Clyde" couple:

"Let's face it. Everyone cheats. You may think you don't, you may try to convince yourself that you're above reproach, but you're not.

"It's part of the human condition to be a little bit sneaky, a wee bit opportunistic and just a tad shady. We all strive to be our best selves, but deep down in the darkest recesses of our souls, there's always a part of us that says, 'Try to get it done the easy way, and don't worry about stepping on that other guy!' "

The above didn't come from me. But I didn't steal it, either.

Lest I be accused of the subject of Chapter 17, "Getting Away with Plagiarizing," I want to disclose that I pulled the entire passage off a Web site promoting "The Art of Cheating: A Nasty Little Book for Tricky Little Schemers and Their Hapless Victims" (Simon & Schuster, $14.95).

If the title sounds familiar, it's because police discovered the recently published paperback among the spoils of "Bonnie and Clyde." Edward Anderton and girlfriend Jocelyn Kirsch are accused of a $100,000 crime spree that involved stealing the identities of their Center City neighbors and using their credit-card information to finance an extravagant lifestyle that included exotic travel, high-end digs and the latest electronic equipment.

When police entered the couple's apartment on Chestnut Street near 18th, they found fake identification cards, equipment typically used to create such cards, keys to their neighbors' apartments, $18,000 cash and other evidence. And also this 311-page book.

Had the attractive lovebirds purchased it, thinking it was a guide to some of the nefarious crimes they've been accused of committing? Might it have been an early holiday gift from a friend suspicious of their free-spending lifestyle? Or was it a gift from one lover to another, a private joke indicative of the lavish lifestyle they were enjoying? When I reached out yesterday to the author, Jessica Dorfman Jones, she was puzzled, too.

"What is one supposed to say or feel after getting caught up in such an odd story," she said. "It's hardly a genuine textbook for anybody who wants to do evil."

Besides chapters on "Forging Handwriting," "Faking an Orgasm" and "Falsifying a Workmen's Comp Claim," the book includes real-life scammers such as Jayson Blair, the disgraced former New York Times reporter accused of plagiarism.

In the interest of full disclosure - a subject not covered in the book - I should point out that Jones, who once worked for a big-time, New York literary firm, offered to represent me years ago when I was shopping around a book proposal. These days, Jones, a lawyer who still represents authors, also is in the book-packaging business. She became inspired to write a book herself after encountering so many self-help books.

"This book was written to be a stocking stuffer for Christmas for people who like edgy matter," Jones said. "It's in the humor section of Barnes & Noble.

"When I wrote this book as a parody, it was of how to be a real jerk."

And while she has garnered the kind of publicity most first-time authors would kill for - that's only a manner of speaking, by the way - she never imagined that "The Art of Cheating" would get linked to one of the hottest crime stories of the week. Yesterday, she appeared on Fox TV's "The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet," CNN and "Inside Edition."

"How could one humor book be responsible for this sort of thing?" Jones said. "If anyone can't ascertain from the subtitle that it's a very tongue-in-cheek book, then it's time to release your sense of humor.

"The book, it's quite moralistic," Jones pointed out. "The tone is more, 'Let's take a look at ourselves and the bad things that we do.' "

For instance, in the chapter on forging someone's handwriting, Jones wrote, "This cheat will earn you a nice vacation in prison should you get caught. Don't get caught."

Maybe Anderton and Kirsch didn't get to that chapter. Or else, perhaps the fact that they stand accused of so much cheating and that this book was in their apartment is all one big mistake. If it's not, maybe they should buy another copy of the "The Art of Cheating" so they can study Chapter Eight, "Getting Away with Perjury." "Try peppering your speech with: 'To the best of my recollection . . . I am under the impression . . . My understanding is . . .' "

When asked if she had any non-tongue-in-cheek advice for the high-living couple, Jones said, "Get a good lawyer." *

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