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Jan 24, 2012

The Darlings by Cristina Alger

The Darlings by Cristina Alger
Viking/Pamela Dorman Books
February 16, 2012
Hardcover, 352 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4.5 stars

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.

Wall Street crumbles, the financial crisis consumes every one's retirement, and the American dream as we know it has become a nightmare. To stay off my soap-box to write this review is tough, as I blame these exact movers and shakers of Wall Street and their business partners as the reason most of us are struggling to pay our bills. In the wake of Bernie Madoff, the author brings us a fictional wealthy family, the Darlings, and all of their acquaintances and co-workers to bring us the story we thought we knew. And even though we find it difficult to feel sorry for these overbearing and pretentious people, the author writes it so well that we really want to know what happens to the Darlings when the bottom finally drops out. And we all know it will, because we are living in the recession that Wall Street helped create for its fellow Americans.

With each introduction of yet another character, the inevitable drop doesn't come quick. Instead we watch via the myriad of characters with bated breath.. waiting, reading, and somehow falling in love with the story that we know ends with the tragic fact that just one victim of millions is that the widow down the street no longer has a life savings to live off of. Paul Ross, General Counsel, is married to his boss's daughter, and Paul is the one we focus on, as he is the one who was innocently roped into this intense financial mess the firm created. We can easily root for this gentle Southerner who was inadvertently trapped in a New York minute by his wife's family. Some of the intricate details of the financial world come into play here, but I was lucky enough to have passed two securities exams back in the day, so much of it was old-hat to me. And a lot of New York and Long Island are featured, which is where I grew up (as a figure of speech). These behind-the-scenes montages could become boring to some, but I was sucked into the story from the opening scene when Morty jumped off the Tappan Zee Bridge.

The story develops around the investigation of Morty's hedge fund business, with the SEC closing in on this fraudulent business and the media itching to get out in front of the looming debacle of what Morty left behind.. which is the Darling family business.. except who was going to take the fall? Would they set the innocent Paul up as the sacrificial lamb? Or is everyone going down? As a New Yorker herself, the author gives us a refreshing angle at how the other half lives - making no apologies, and leaving nothing to the imagination and simply writes it in a matter-of- fact style. She doesn't try to force empathy onto any of the characters, she simply tries to shed light on the puzzle of how the dominoes may fall. There were so many characters I was impressed with the weaving of them all, as the web threatened to snag them all. Cristina Alger deftly writes us an evocative story that is a bit like a taste of forbidden fruit.. you know it's not going to be a happy ending, but still it's one you know is going to have a twist.. and it is so much fun getting there. Even though the final scene seemed a bit abrupt and contrived, this was an enticing story and I would definitely be interested in what comes next from this author.

Read an excerpt.