Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Darlings: Financial, Family Meltdown

It's not often a book keeps me up until 2 am to finish, but Cristina Alger's debut novel, The Darlings, did. This "financial thriller," as many reviewers describe it, is actually the fascinating tale of a family in crisis — examining the question of, when shit hits the fan, where do loyalties lie: to the truth (i.e, to doing the right thing), or to protecting your family?

Don't get me wrong, though — it is also, indeed, thrilling. The story is of Carter Darling — a New York billionaire who runs an investment company called Delphic. It's Thanksgiving weekend, 2008, at the onset of the financial crisis, and the manager of one of Delphic's top funds — and Carter's long-time friend — has just killed himself. Turns out this guy's fund was fraudulent — a kind of Ponzi scheme. And so Carter and his family —including his son-in-law Paul, newly hired as the firm's legal counsel — must decide who knew what, how to protect themselves from legal action, as well as indictment in the court of public opinion (who is going to sympathize with Wall Street billionaires, even if they are ostensibly innocent?), and how all this will affect the future of the family, its firm, and their social standing as "darlings" of New York society.

One of my favorite parts of this novel is the wide cast of complex characters, and what each brings to bear on this story — how they're all different, and how each relates to his or her own family. Alger often takes a break from her break-neck pace to tell us the backstories of these characters — a journalist for a magazine, his young assistant trying to make it in the cutthroat world of New York publishing, Carter's lawyer Sol and Sol's legal secretary (whose husband had worked at Bear Stearns, and now the family is struggling to make ends meet), and an SEC lawyer who has to investigate a former love interest.

At first blush, some of these backstories may seem superfluous; like information that the author needed to know to tell her characters' stories, but that the reader doesn't necessarily need to see about them. But the different takes on family loyalty provide interesting context to Carter Darling's relationship with his family, and how he's committed (or not?) to them. Is family loyalty enough to ensure he'll do the right thing? That's why you stay up to all hours of the night to finish reading.

I really enjoyed this novel — it's about one of my favorite fictional subjects (rich, interesting New Yorkers) in one of my favorite literary settings. I'd highly recommend this for those interested in a timely thriller with more than a bit of moral dilemma and no shortage of heart. Four stars.


  1. Have you read The Privileges? It, too, is about rich, interesting New Yorkers, but this particular bunch is rich, interesting, and actually doing some not-so-above-the-radar things. The most interesting part there is how they deal with the fact that they DON'T get caught, which causes its own kinds of family turmoil.

    Anyway, your review reminded me of it. Glad to hear The Darlings was a success!

    1. Haven't read that, but it sounds really similar to this. And I really liked this. Off to check it out - thanks for the rec!

  2. Hi, Greg. I'm impressed. Until I read your review, it had never crossed my mind that "Financial" and "Thriller" could be used together in a sentence, but you make it sound plausible, in the same way that John Grisham can make the courtroom interesting. Oh, most of his stuff is big, sweeping, and vital, but have you read his "King of Torts?" It's about the most mundane sort of ambulance chaser who advertises non-stop on TV, trying to collect class action suits, and what comes of it. Somehow had me on the edge of my seat.

    And this sounds a very similar concept. I think I'm going to risk it on my TBR; thanks for the tip!

  3. Reading your review reminds me of the tv show that was on for only one season on ABC-Dirty Sexy Money...loved that show! I think the main family's name on that show was "Darling" even.

  4. Yes I have wanted to read this one! A good fast paced thriller --- what's not to like! Thanks, your review gives me more reason to

  5. This sounds great, I'm going to read it. I work in finance and love a good thriller. I also loved Dirty Sexy Money which another commenter mentioned ... Also about a rich family named The Darlings.

  6. I have this one on the TBR list - will bump it up based on your rec.

  7. Spot-on review - I ended up enjoying this one in spite of myself!