The Banker’s Wife

51RKYsNg1yL._AC_US218_.jpgIt’s not often you can read a thriller with almost more dead bodies than pages, and still have a happy ending, but Cristina Alger’s The Banker’s Wife delivers with a fast-paced mystery thriller loaded with international espionage and financial deceit.

The obscenely wealthy hiding money in Swiss bank accounts seems trite, but this premise expands to politicians and shady Ponzi schemes in Alger’s story.  The chapters alternate between two women, Annabel who is the banker’s wife, and Martina, the dedicated journalist about to give up her investigative career to marry the son of a Presidential hopeful.  Although unknown to each other, both are highly reliable narrators (this is not a “Girl” book), and the two women are on track to disclose the same off-shore banking crime: ““A world of dirty money, hidden away in shadow accounts, and it belongs to some very powerful and dangerous people…”

Annabel’s husband Matthew, who works for the Swiss bank which handles lucrative but illegal funds, suddenly dies in a plane crash.  Martina’s mentor, Duncan, who has been working with an inside whistleblower, suddenly dies in his house.  Both women are literally left holding the bag, or in this case, the computers and USB’s containing the incriminating information.  Both are dodging bullets, literally and figuratively, as they try to find trustworthy men (there are not many in this story) who will get the information out via the international news corps, and stop the masterminds controlling the action from escaping justice.

Cited as a “financial thriller,” The Banker’s Wife has the timeliness of political and banking deceit in the news that has become all too familiar.  The story is a page-turner with new developments around the bend of every cliff-hanging narrow road in the Swiss countryside, and the ending takes a satisfying turn. What a great movie this would make.

The Darlings

Cristina Alger offers her version of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme in her first novel – The Darlings.  Adding marital infidelity, crooked schemes by  unsavory lawyers, and a disgraced Securities and Exchange Commission, Alger mixes fiction with reality in her story of the New York Darlings – a wealthy family caught in the middle of illegal trading activities.

Billionaire Carter Darling, the head of the family and partner in a lucrative brokerage firm, carefully manages his wife and two grown daughters as well as his business, until a trusted family friend, his source for amazing investments that never seem to fail, suddenly jumps off the Tappan Zee Bridge on the day before Thanksgiving.  Alger cleverly distills the action into the holiday weekend, from revelation on Thursday to betrayal on Saturday and indictment on Monday. Within days, the Darlings descend from a life of privilege to one of crime and regret.

Shifting alliances – with every man for himself – carry some suspense: Will the culprits be able to frame innocent onlookers and go free themselves? Will Carter use Paul, his unsuspecting son-in-law as the fall guy, or will Paul become state’s evidence?  Will the headline hungry journalists uncover the truth?  But the story plods along, giving inordinate attention to the ritzy lifestyle and glamorous surroundings of the wealthy.  As a former debutante, Harvard graduate, analyst for Goldman Sachs, and corporate lawyer, Alger had a front row seat to the privileged life as well as to recent Wall Street horrors, and it’s hard not to imagine she is basing some of her characters on real associates and “friends.”

A quick read on a familiar scenario – a friend once told me she would finish a book that has a weak story, if the characters engaged her.  I wonder who in New York society is reading The Darlings to match the characters to someone they know.