The definitive Madoff book, with panache

<strong>MADOFF: THE MAN WHO STOLE $65M</strong><br />BY ERIN ARVEDLUND<br /><strong>Penguin, &pound;9.99</strong><br /><br />ERIN ARVEDLUND has written this book with relish &ndash; and not a small amount of &ldquo;I told you so&rdquo;. This is because, as an investigative reporter for big US financial publications, she blew the whistle on Madoff in 2001, with a big article for Barron&rsquo;s pointing out the mystery of his private funds&rsquo; stupendous returns. She blew her whistle hard, having done over 100 interviews for the piece, including one with Madoff himself. Her report was ignored by all the regulators.<br /><br />&nbsp;Arvedlund is one of those plucky American reporters who leaves no stone unturned. Consequently this book begins at the very beginning &ndash; even before the very beginning &ndash; with Madoff&rsquo;s grandparents, who were born in Russia and came to the States in 1907. Madoff grew up in an isolated area of Queens called Laurelton, where he spoke Yiddish and English with a Yiddish accent, though he went to a good school where he was seen as a happy-go-lucky, twinkly guy that didn&rsquo;t work too hard.<br /><br />Though the Madoff affair has been written about ad infinitum, this is the authoritative book on the topic. Arvedlund is asking and trying to answer exactly how he did it, when it started, who he really was, how much others knew, how and why the authorities missed the whole thing and where the money has gone.<br /><br />Arvedlund is also interested in the human nature component of the whole mess &ndash; what drew people in their droves to Madoff, what compelled him to do what he did, what made people believe a fantasy when reality tells us again and again that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. This is a watertight account of one of the most gripping crimes of our day, written with a reporter&rsquo;s panache. A must-read.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Zoe Strimpel<br /><br /><br /><strong>TRANSITION</strong><br />BY IAIN BANKS<br /><strong>Little Brown, &pound;18.99</strong><br /><br />IAINBANKS famously has a dual career, as a mainstream writer of literary fiction, and &ndash; as Iain MBanks &ndash; a science fiction author. But don&rsquo;t be fooled by the absence of the Mhere. Transition hardly falls into the mainstream category as it is normally understood. Banks has been criticised for the gulf between his sci-fi books and the plain old thrillers and has clearly set about addressing this issue here. The result is a little messy.<br /><br />The prologue lays out what kind of book we&rsquo;re dealing with. Multiple narratives from multiple, parallel universes (or Earths) set themselves out in a confusing fashion. Controlling them all is a Big Brother-esque organisation called Concern, whose job it is to ensure goodness on all the Earths. To do this, it sends agents, called transitionaries, to intervene in potentially dangerous scenarios. They pre-emptively strike people that Concern believes will have a negative influence on the world.<br /><br />The central narrator is the skilled assassin Temudjin Oh, who has begun to worry about the ethics of his duties for Concern. Interspersed with his story are those of an unusual cast of characters &ndash; elite Concern member Madame d&rsquo;Ortolan, rebellious agent Mrs Mulverhill and greedy City trader Adrian Cubbish.<br /><br />There isn&rsquo;t really a coherent plot of any kind. Instead, what this book offers is a disturbing, sweeping and customarily imaginative foray into the most sinister reaches of possibility. But it feels too random &ndash; a result of being ambitious while lacking narrative rigour.<br /><br />Much is put in for effect but not developed, as though they are merely flourishes. As a kind of pastiche it works; as a forward-moving thriller, it could have used a little more time in the editing room (or in Banks&rsquo;s head).&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ZS<br /><br /><strong>BAD MONEY</strong><br />BY LOUISE PATTEN<br /><strong>Quercus, &pound;12.99</strong><br /><br />LOUISE PATTEN is certainly qualified to write this novel, another example of the City novel that has been pouring out since the credit crunch took hold. She&rsquo;s a former FTSE company chairman and has graced numerous multinational boards, including M&amp;S&rsquo;s. Things haven&rsquo;t always been easy &ndash; she was non-executive director of Bradford &amp; Bingley and head of its remuneration committee. So she knows all about how the City makes money. A mother and doting wife (her husband is John Patten, ex Conservative Cabinet minister), she also knows all about the pressures of a high flying career.<br /><br />In real life, Patten is known for her brutally effective time management. However, Mary Kersey, the heroine of Bad Money, seems to have a slightly less perfect grasp of this particular skill. The story begins as she swerves her Land Rover into the mud to call the office &ndash; fearing disaster in her absence &ndash; with just a few minutes to go before a meeting at her daughter&rsquo;s school.<br /><br />Kersey is a strategic advisor to banks while her husband is far from being a City slicker. Her daughter is homesick, adding ore pressures to Mary&rsquo;s already fraught life. Just when it can&rsquo;t get more stressful, Mary is asked by the Treasury to investigate dirty dealings in hedge funds. Thanks to some sensitive secret knowledge, she winds up in a sinister position &ldquo;between men and their money&rdquo; &ndash; a &ldquo;very dangerous place to be.&rdquo;<br /><br />This book is billed as a &ldquo;thrilling expose of what really goes on in the City through the eyes of a woman&rdquo;, and it is clearly written by somebody in the know. If you were being critical, you might say that the characterisations are a little cliched and that the greed and grit are rather predictable. It ain&rsquo;t going to win the Booker, but there are less entertaining ways to spend a few hours.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ZS