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.

The Wizard of Lies

Bernie Madoff is in jail for being a crook; Diana Henriques makes that clear before she begins to report with a steady staccato beat on The Wizard of Lies – Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust.  Liking this man is not an option.  He is arrogant, scheming, manipulative, and greedy.  And, clearly, his focus has always been on his own best interests.

Henriques uses a detached reporter’s tone to unveil his background as well as his rise and fall in the business world, but her skepticism and disdain filters into the facts.  I’ve only just begun to read the book, and already I have the urge to wash off the slime.  The book flap promises “the most complete account of the heartbreaking personal disasters and landmark legal battles triggered by Madoff’s downfall – the suicides, business failures, fractured families, shuttered charities…this timeless scandal.”

Not sure I want to read that far, but I like knowing he’s in jail.