THE DARLINGS by Cristina Alger

Cristina Alger’s The Darlings is a novel about a Madoff-esque Ponzi scheme that unfolds in New York City amidst the 2008 financial sector collapse. The scandal ultimately involves the members of a high society family, the Darlings, whose patriarch Carter founded a hedge fund that is 30% invested in the Ponzi scheme. Did Carter know that the fund he was invested in – whose founder has jumped off the Tappan Zee bridge – was a sham? And why did the SEC refuse to investigate the setup, knowing that there were allegations of sham trades and shady reporting?

There is a lot to like about The Darlings. It reads like a screenplay, at a fast pace that propels the action forward and makes it hard to put the book down (after an somewhat slow-ish first third). Alger is a good writer – I loved her descriptions of the characters and her razor sharp observations of lawyers, richie-rich New Yorkers, and the everyday people who kept the high-flying financial sector afloat. For a debut novel, The Darlings is pretty impressive. The author grew up in New York City, went to Harvard and NYU Law School, and worked at fancy law firms and investment banks, so she knows of which she writes.

Also, I usually have trouble following financial scandals – I get confused as to who invested where and what was illegal – but had no trouble following this one. That’s a plus.

When the Madoff scandal unfolded, I was particularly curious about the impact that it had on the Madoff family – the wife and sons who suffered the blow publicly but remained mostly silent. Did they know what had been going on? Could they forgive the man who had ruined the charmed lives they had come to enjoy? I wish Alger had dug a little deeper into what happened after Carter’s involvement was revealed. The book basically ended once the scandal came to light – I would have enjoyed a few more chapters talking about what happened next.

There are also some tertiary characters – in particular a New York-esque magazine editor and his assistant – who took up a lot of pages but tended to derail the action. I admit that I read the first half of the book in fits and starts (thank you, baby and new job) and I had trouble keeping track of who was who and how they were connected. (I *think* that the editor’s niece worked at the S.E.C. and was involved with the lawyer trying to jumptstart the investigation, and was also the ex-girlfriend of Carter’s son-in-law Paul, but I am still not entirely sure.)

However, The Darlings is definitely a fun read, despite a few flaws, and I have a lot of admiration for its author. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy you sent me many moons ago.

The Darlings comes out in paperback on Monday, and thanks to Penguin I have a copy to give away to an EDIWTB reader. If you’d like to win, leave me a comment here with the best book you read in 2012, and I will pick a winner on December 31. Good luck!


  • December 22, 2012 - 9:33 am | Permalink

    Financial scandals can be hard to follow since they usually involve so many people. This sounds interesting even with the slow start. No need to enter me.

  • Larissa
    December 22, 2012 - 9:41 am | Permalink

    The best book I read this year… There were so many, and so many to be read!

    The Middlesteins (great characters)
    The Lost Wife (sad!)
    Gone Girl (even though I didn’t like the ending)

  • Susan Broadhurst
    December 22, 2012 - 5:40 pm | Permalink

    I am the same way about financial scandals. I always wait for DVD on financial scandal movies so I can pause and talk out what’s going on.

    My favourite read this year was The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary by Andrew Westoll. I read a lot of good fiction this year and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Rules of Civility, and Gone Girl all stand out in my memory.

  • Cori
    December 22, 2012 - 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Language of Flowers was my favorite book this year. Thanks.

  • Susan
    December 23, 2012 - 2:55 am | Permalink

    The best book I read this year was historical non-fiction – Killing Lincoln.

  • December 25, 2012 - 5:21 pm | Permalink

    It can be really frustrating to try to keep track of things when life is interrupting like that – you have my sympathies! I’m glad to hear that this one was so good because I have an advance copy tucked away in one of my stacks and I hadn’t heard much about it yet.

  • Lynn
    December 29, 2012 - 1:06 pm | Permalink

    The best book I read in 2012 has to be “Outlier” by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell dug deep into the root of success stories and clarified common misunderstanding of success factors with interesting stories and examples,such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Hockey players, Jewish lawyers. Reading this book not only allows me to dive under the surface of success but also helps me learn more about different immigrants in the U.S. Once start, it’s difficult to stop a chapter before you read through Gladwell’s reasoning.

  • Miriam Boots
    December 29, 2012 - 5:30 pm | Permalink

    The best book I read this year was The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. Wonderful Southern gothic at it’s best!

  • Amy
    December 30, 2012 - 10:44 am | Permalink

    My favorite books this year were:
    The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan
    Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (except the shitty ending)
    Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline

    All from your blog!
    Happy New Year!

  • January 3, 2013 - 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I really loved this one (and yes, you’re write about the editor’s niece. I was amazed I didn’t hate that revelation. In the span of the story, it actually worked.) I also concur about financial scandals. I felt smarter as I read this one and think I actually understand Madoff more now. I’m curious to see how the Bravo adaptation works (particularly if they’ll keep the story moving forward and focus more on the post-scandal action.)

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