Taking full advantage of the irrational exuberance of the dot-com boom, a veteran con man puts together one last big-money scam.
Kip Largo has done five years in the federal pen for securities and mail fraud, and he wants to be an upstanding citizen. But here’s what going straight gets him: a $10-an-hour job at a dry cleaners and a side gig hawking vitamins online. That barely nets enough to keep him afloat in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley’s ground zero. So when the attractive wife of Ed Napier, a Las Vegas casino mogul playing venture capitalist, approaches Kip in the hopes of bilking him for $20 million, he’s intrigued. And when his ne’er-do-well son Toby gets roughed up by Russian mobsters over a gambling debt, his hand is forced. With seed money from the mob and a crew of assistants—a former girl Friday; a hotshot programmer; and Toby, who’s eager to learn the family business—Kip puts together an elaborate scheme to hoover up Napier’s cash: namely in the form of Pythia, a program Kip claims can predict stock movements. In truth, Pythia exploits a time delay, but what Kip is really taking advantage of is the late-’90s dot-com craze—the belief that anything involving the Internet translated into boatloads of money. Klein, who ran a tech company in the Valley, knows this turf, and the small details—press releases larded with gibberish, swing bands at launch parties, green journalists who don’t ask hard questions—are pitch-perfect. Klein has also boned up on con artists and features some entertaining interludes about various kinds of scams. Those sidelights sometimes threaten to be more entertaining than the actual plot, which grows increasingly complex as Kip realizes he might be getting conned himself. But Kip’s lively narrative style—a mix of tough talk and self-deprecation that evokes hard-boiled mysteries—keeps things from getting bogged down.
A propulsive, noirish tale, as well as a smart allegory on the false promise of the Internet bubble.