Halpern brings unexpected literary heft to the world of debt collection.



An investigation of the bottom-feeding underworld of debt collecting and its disreputable cast of rip-off artists.

As journalist and novelist Halpern (Dormia, 2009, etc.) discovered, the world of debt collection is every bit as scummy (and possibly scummier) as its reputation has always suggested. “Some thirty-five million consumers—roughly 14% of all Americans—are currently being hounded over at least one loan,” he writes. The author delivers a tale of two kinds of lowlifes and their collaboration in a lowest-common-denominator business that makes Wall Street look meek and ethical. Halpern begins with a focus on former banker Aaron Siegel, who moved back to his financially downtrodden hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., rounded up $14 million from chummy investors and opened his own private equity fund specializing in debt collection. After being ripped off by his own shady employees, who stole a huge portfolio of debt out from under his nose and started their own rogue agency, Siegel decided to employ the help of ex–bank robber Brandon Wilson to help strong-arm the debt collection competition into submission. Halpern tracks not only Siegel and Wilson’s quixotic quest for the stolen debt, but also the ugly, everyday inner workings of the business as a whole, much of which is based in crime-ridden, economically destitute Buffalo. The predominantly unethical practice of buying, selling and collecting debt is carried out by just the sort of societal outcasts you’d expect—usually, ex-cons or other desperate, otherwise unemployable screw-ups fill the business’s ranks. Halpern’s story of the debt collection world is also a dramatic rise-and-fall tale that traces the anything-goes heyday of debt collecting businesses in the unregulated early 2000s and how it has changed with the consequential recent Obama-era crackdowns on the shadier practices in the field. As we see in the book, these new regulations make it much harder for miscreants like Siegel and Wilson to survive.

Halpern brings unexpected literary heft to the world of debt collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-10823-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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