Madoff’s fraud was driven by pure revenge
BY ADAM LEBOR
Budapest-based journalist Adam LeBor’s book about the world’s greatest fraudster comes on the heels of American investigative journalist Erin Arvedlund’s tell-all (or rather, as much as she could) about Bernard Madoff. LeBor’s book is packaged slightly differently but there’s no escaping he’s a bit of a sloppy second.
His stance is bolder than Arvedlund’s. He argues that Madoff, who defrauded what LeBor calls the “Jewish institution”, was motivated by a desire to avenge his “shtarker” roots against the “yekkes” – that is, the rough, Yiddish-speaking Eastern European immigrant Jews he descended from, against the refined, proudly assimilated German Jewish establishment that had already set up the likes of Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers. His forebears lived in their very own stateside shtetl on Lower East Side, among gangsters that used physical violence and bribes to rule their roost. LeBor calls Madoff a modern “shtarker”, or gangster, who used technology, charm and brilliant social connections to rule and, ultimately, destroy. His motivation was deep and determined – the result speaks for itself.
So we know the “why” about what motivated Madoff. As for the how, LeBor’s conclusion feels watery. What attracted all those investors, he says, was essentially the eternal human need to be accepted by the in-crowd, of which Madoff managed to make himself king. He was the gangster boss of Palm Beach and everyone wanted a piece. Meanwhile, the argument that Madoff was exorcising the resentment of his sidelined forbears against the yekke establishment is nice, but farfetched because impossible to substantiate.
There is plenty of research that looks at Madoff’s professional and social links and seeks to explain why people were drawn to him but for all this stuff, Arvedlund got there first.
BY GERALD SEYMOUR
Eddie Seymour is sunbathing in a London park, his eyes closed, thoughts drifting, sleep hovering near. Suddenly an Italian accent rouses him. It belongs to a scantily clad girl, who has sat down next to him and is asking for some help translating the meaning of the word “turnover”.
She’s an accountancy student in the afternoon and learns English in the morning, and luckily for her, Eddie is a full-time English teacher and knows the odd business term inItalian. The two go to the pub, and by the evening, Eddie is besotted with the improbably-named Immacolata Borelli.
What he doesn’t know is that she is in London to look out for her brother, a gangster wanted by the Italian police for murder, and that her family is a clan of the Naples Camorra, a mafia deadlier and more powerful than the Sicilian one. Learning that a friend has been killed by her family, Immacolata flies to Naples for the funeral and is spat on by the deceased’s parents.
She understands their point, though, and it’s then she decides to honour her friends’ memory by collaborating with the police, turning in her brother and testifying against the rest of her family’s criminal empire. But the Camorra do not go down without a fight, and Immacolata’s decision means sacrificing everyone close to her, including, if they get their way, Eddie, who has followed her to Naples.
Seymour’s years as an ITN news reporter in Vietnam and the Middle East show that he knows what makes a story. Not only is this gripping from the first, as Seymour establishes a convincing human relationship in a way that many thriller writers don’t, but it deals with a real entity that is as terrifying in life as it is in this absorbing book.
BY SOPHIE KINSELLA
kinsella is best known for her Becky Bloomwood series – you may recall Bloomwood, the dappy financial journalist in this year’s film of Kinsella’s Confession of a Shopaholic, starring Isla Fisher.
In Kinsella’s latest stand-alone novel Lara, 27, has just been dumped by the “perfect” man and now she’s stuck going to the funeral of a great aunt Sadie she never knew. Suddenly, though, Sadie’s spirit pops up and won’t leave Lara alone. She has lost her favourite vintage necklace and she can’t settle down in heaven until it’s found – sadly it’s Lara that must retrieve it, although she doesn’t want to.
As they spar, searching for the necklace, Sadie’s rebellious 1920s party girl spirit emerges as the dominant force in the book and Lara, the worry-laden contemporary Londoner, is increasingly aware of having met her match. But do we really care about Sadie and a bygone era? We get into this wanting a contemporary story dealing a current woman’s struggles – we want Lara, not Sadie, who feels out of place thought she is central to Lara’s journey of self discovery.
But Kinsella’s perfected style carries the thing with the usual pace and spirit, so while it’s not her best, it will do as perfectly good Tube reading. Kinsella fans may be a touch disappointed, though.