Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Review: The Darlings by Cristina Alger


A sophisticated page-turner about a wealthy New York family embroiled in a financial scandal with cataclysmic consequences.

Now that he's married to Merrill Darling, daughter of billionaire financier Carter Darling, attorney Paul Ross has grown accustomed to New York society and all of its luxuries: a Park Avenue apartment, weekends in the Hamptons, bespoke suits. When Paul loses his job, Carter offers him the chance to head the legal team at his hedge fund. Thrilled with his good fortune in the midst of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression, Paul accepts the position.

But Paul's luck is about to shift: a tragic event catapults the Darling family into the media spotlight, a regulatory investigation, and a red-hot scandal with enormous implications for everyone involved. Suddenly, Paul must decide where his loyalties lie-will he save himself while betraying his wife and in-laws or protect the family business at all costs?

Cristina Alger's glittering debut novel interweaves the narratives of the Darling family, two eager SEC attorneys, and a team of journalists all racing to uncover-or cover up-the truth. With echoes of a fictional Too Big to Fail and the novels of Dominick Dunne, The Darlings offers an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society-a world seldom seen by outsiders-and a fast-paced thriller of epic proportions.

Penguin Books | 25 December 2012 (Trade Paperback)

My Review

4 Stars

Set in New York City at the height of the financial crisis, The Darlings is the story of a wealthy American family.  After the firm he works for is brought down during the Wall Street meltdown, Paul Ross accepts the position of general counsel at the financial firm headed by his father-in-law, Carter Darling.  While other firms are struggling to stay alive, Darling's business has weathered the financial crisis relatively unscathed and Paul is happy to be employed by a stable company.  It is not long after he starts his new position, however, that Paul and the Darling's worlds are threatened with collapse.  The tragic actions of Carter Darling's closest friend and business associate serves to throw the Darlings into the media and regulatory spotlight.  Paul soon learns that the SEC has been investigating the firm's most significant partner fund and finds out the truth about what's really been going on there.  Despite this knowledge, Paul is torn over what to do as joining forces with the SEC investigators would mean betraying his wife's family and the company for which he works.

The Darlings is a well-written, fast-paced and engaging novel, one that is guaranteed to evoke a lot of emotion from the reader.  At the novel's outset I had quite a bit of sympathy for both Paul Ross and Carter Darling, neither of whom appear to have had anything to do with the actions of their associates yet would seemingly be brought down by them anyway.  As the story unfolds, however, my sympathy turned to disappointment with Paul and anger towards Carter.  Despite the fact that their investors face losses of hundreds of millions of dollars, doing what's right because it is the proper thing to do never seems to factor into either man's decision-making process.  Both men are really only interested in saving themselves and their families. While this is understandable, the fact that so many other families stand to be ruined simply because they placed their trust in the wrong financial firm negates any sympathy I might have otherwise had for Paul Ross and the Darlings.  The only characters who are portrayed as wanting to do the right thing are the SEC investigators, and seeing how their efforts are continually stifled by their own management was maddening to read.   The elements of the narrative that stir up the most emotion, however, are those that detail the despicable steps some were willing to take to keep the wrongdoing hidden and to discredit those trying to bring it to light.   I found this aspect of the storyline to be infuriating.  Indeed, it's been a long time since I've read a novel that evoked such strong emotion in me.   I'm looking forward to reading more from Cristina Alger. 

The Darlings is recommended to fans of contemporary novels, especially those interested in a fictional account of the financial crisis.  

Note:  I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.