Wow! What a roller coaster ride! Clinging to the painted cars, looping up and down on con­torted rails, twisting and turning, are the hedge fund man­agers, the cor­porate attorneys, and their avari­cious clients. Close behind, some­times just ahead, always crowding close, are the SEC inves­ti­gators, the news­paper reporters, the gossip mongers. On the straightaway, racing hell bent toward dis­aster, are the wives, the fam­ilies, the spouses tainted by decades of familial deceit and now by public dis­covery. The Darling family is the epitome—wealthy, well-​​positioned, appar­ently poised safely at the top of the ride. Their fate, in this gripping novel by Cristina Alger, begins with a little slippage of the gears and soon is a headlong plunge that caroms out of control and brings them down in a stunning, multi-​​faceted crash.

The Dar­lings is intriguing for many reasons. It’s timely, in that it unveils a financial Ponzi scheme that unravels almost overnight and that harms untold numbers of innocent—and not-so-innocent—people along the way. It’s com­pelling. Despite their almost obscene wealth and priv­ilege, the char­acters are real people with complex emo­tional responses to their plights. Not all of them are likeable, but they’re absolutely fas­ci­nating. So are their stories. From the matriarch who always looks the other way, to the patriarch who seeks to save his damaged family name, to the daughters and their hus­bands, each trapped in one way or another, the Dar­lings find them­selves not at an amusement park but in a mir­rored house of horrors.

Events move at a staccato pace. The novel could easily have been twice as long, a legal thriller with intricate machi­na­tions and courtroom drama. Instead, Alger chooses to describe the Darling’s nightmare at the moments of dis­covery and from the inside out. More important than the legal details are the psy­cho­logical atti­tudes of those involved as they react to one upsetting and unset­tling rev­e­lation after another. “It was such a del­icate web of deci­sions,” one char­acter muses, “these were the fibers of the noose with which they had hanged them­selves.” Equally intriguing are the players’ jus­ti­fi­ca­tions, because clients are strangely missing from this fast-​​paced nar­rative. It’s all about the fat cats, about swindlers and self and sur­vival. “You do what’s right for your family” is the repeated rationale, even as the tycoons are ensnaring their fam­ilies in webs of lies.

By the end of the novel, the roller coaster cars are all in a heap. Rep­u­ta­tions have been wrecked overnight, for­tunes endan­gered or lost, family ties split asunder. Some char­acters sit in silenced dis­belief; others are already taking care of them­selves and their futures. The reader can’t help but wonder, ’is this an accurate por­trayal of the real-​​life, twenty-​​first century.

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