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!