A courtroom drama that indicts the dominant strategies of the financial planning industry, telling an enjoyable story at the same time.
In his latest novel drawing on his years of financial industry experience, Mallach (Walking with the Analysts, 2008) turns a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority hearing into a tension-filled analysis of the shortcomings of fixed-income investment strategies. Blue-collar workers Henry and Norma Thompson file a complaint against their financial adviser, Valerie Brown, after her investments on their behalf lead to the loss of a significant portion of their retirement savings. Feisty but schlubby lawyer Lucien Marat represents the Thompsons at the FINRA hearing, but his real mission is to bring about systemic change in the financial industry, one lawsuit at a time. Mallach keeps the intricacies of investment strategy at a level the average reader can understand, using his characters, rather than infodumps, to explain concepts through fast-paced dialogue. What at first seems to be a clear-cut case of professional negligence turns out to be more complicated as the opposing lawyers reveal one twist after another, and Mallach keeps readers guessing until the hearing’s conclusion. The book ends by following up on several of the characters two years after the hearing, particularly the ever-more-litigious Marat and the chastened Brown; the Thompsons, however, do not appear again—an odd choice given their importance to the book’s central conflict. Mallach succeeds in keeping the story moving, despite the relatively dry subject matter, thanks to multidimensional characters who can’t make it to the end of the page without arguing with each other. The highly descriptive style of writing, though occasionally overstuffed with colorful turns of phrase—“irritating enough to make the Dalai Lama curse like a character in Goodfellas”; “people like you can sell birthday cakes and party hats to a Jehovah’s Witness”—continues to keep the pages turning and the conflict crackling.
Proof that even the mechanics of low-risk investment strategies can be the basis of a thoughtful, dynamic novel.