An FBI agent investigates a possible Ponzi scheme with the help of his new assistant, who may have an agenda of her own.
Sean Murphy, a longtime FBI agent, is between assignments after having gained “quasi-star” status. Why only quasi? “I happened to have saved the Pope. Unfortunately, I did it only once,” he says in his typically wry manner. His new assistant, Britney Hyde-Woods, seems too young for her job, leading Murphy to wonder how she got where she did. When Murphy’s wife receives an unexpected overseas inheritance, it seems like a good opportunity to take a week off, check it out and assign Britney to report on a white-collar crime question: whether a Ponzi scheme could actually succeed for the perpetrator. According to Britney, the answer is no: “It seems the perp always gets caught.” Back in the States, the Murphys—looking for a firm to invest with—come across A.H. Brown and Company, but there’s something about young Miles Brown that Murphy just doesn’t like. The agent explains, “Maybe it was the way he almost wrapped himself in the flag when he talked about investing. Like the importance of, the beauty of, America was all about making money.” The Murphys go with another firm, but he asks Britney to run a sting: Pose as a wealthy investor and see if Miles and Andrew might be running a Ponzi scam. What Murphy doesn’t know is that Britney is already romantically involved with Andrew, and all her research about countries without extradition treaties might have an ulterior purpose. Burson (A Partner’s Hidden Life, 2011, etc.), partner in a CPA firm, makes good use of his financial background in constructing this tight, well-paced and well-researched story. Details—whether of investment schemes, FBI bureaucracy or the workings of small planes—are clear and contribute to the plot. Murphy makes for a likable narrator, though he is somewhat antediluvian in his approach to bright, ambitious young women: Britney’s “attitude could kindly be called a combination of strong willed and free spirited. Unkindly, she would be labeled as a bitch.” Is that unkind, or sexist? It’s hard to imagine a strong-willed and free-spirited man being “labeled” as anything. The novel’s substandard punctuation and spelling also need a cleanup to avoid looking sloppy. Sean Murphy’s adventures continue in A Partner’s Hidden Life.
An intelligent, fast-paced and well-constructed novel about financial crime.