Octopus : Sam Israel, The Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con by Guy Larson

Octopus — the page-turning tale of how Sam Israel’s dream of becoming a Wall Street trader turned into a nightmare that ultimately landed him in prison — is both a thrilling and a scary read.

Born into one of the big-time Wall Street commodity trading families, Sam Israel was a teenager serving drinks at a party in his parents house when he first encountered Freddy Graber, “the man they called “the King” on Wall Street.”

When Graber gave him a business card and an insincere invitation to drop in to the office, Sam recognised the opportunity and before long was knocking on Graber’s door. Determined to work for his hero, Sam’s persistence eventually paid off  and before long he had quit college to take up a junior role on Wall Street. He spent a number of years working with Graber. This was the 1980s and Sam saw that the introduction of computers in the  was transforming the trading environment. Access to the right computer programs could deliver a critical advantage in an environment where speed played a key role in profit — the high tech, high velocity world that would subsequently become a trigger of the global financial crisis.

Bayou, the hedge fund that Sam founded in 1996 planned to use a computer program, “Forward Propagation” to analyse and reveal hidden patterns in stock prices which he believed would give him the ability to make predictions about the highs and lows for his watch list of chosen stocks.

When Bayou lost money at the end of its first year through a misjudged move into gold stocks, a decision was taken to fudge reporting the loss and before long, what had begun as  a temporary plan to cover a relatively small loss had spiralled into ‘a big Problem’ .

Sam’s attempts to solve the big Problem led him down some truly hair-raising paths involving encounters with the owner of a video that purports to show the assassination of JFK, agents and double-agents, an attempt to get access to a trading program owned by Octopus which Sam believed was a secret cabal that controlled the world …

It is hard to know to what extent Sam’s account is reliable — he is a self confessed con man who has SpongeBob SquarePants on his cheques, who abuses cocaine, has chronic back problems, a heart condition that one of his shady contacts tells him was caused by poison because he is ona lis of individuals considered to present an intellectual threat to the State, he  takes a cocktail of meds including meds to treat bipolar disorder.

As the story becomes increasingly bizarre, you have to keep reminding yourself that this is based on fact, not fiction.

Whatever the truth, it’s a fascinating tale told with pace and style by Guy Lawson.

A  copy of  Octopus: Sam Israel, The Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con  was provided free of charge by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Octopus: Sam Israel, The Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con by Guy Larson is published by Crown Publishers.
ISBn: 978 – 307 – 71607 – 1
eISBN: 978-0-307-71609-5

 

 

Clean Break by David Klein

Clean Break is a psychological thriller that tells the story of Celeste Vanek, a graphic designer, married to Adam and mother to a nine-year old son, Spencer. When the novel opens, Celeste is in the process of leaving home driven out by Adam’s compulsive gambling, temper and physical violence.

While Celeste wants a ‘clean break’, Adam wants to hold on to his wife and son and, before long, there is a violent episode during which Celeste is rescued by Jake Atwood, a computer business development executive at the company where Adam works.

As a witness to the violence, Jake becomes involved with Adam and Celeste. Meanwhile, Jake’s relationship with married police woman, Sara Montez, is set to become an important element in the plot.

As the novel unfolds the ethical choices faced by Celeste, Adam, Jake and Sara and the consequences of their choices become the driving force of the plot. Klein presents strong and believable characters and this reads like a novel that would translate well for the screen.

While Adam is the villain of the piece, each of the main characters makes decisions that are morally questionable giving the reader much to think about, not least whether a ‘clean break’ is ever really possible, which makes the book a good choice for book clubs. There is even a list of discussion points included at the end.

A paperback edition of  Clean Break  was provided free of charge by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Clean Break by David Klein by David Klein is published by Broadway Paperbacks. New York, 2012.

ISBN 978-0-307-716835-5.

eISBN 978-0-307-59025-1

Published 5 June 2012.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D : A Novel by Nichole Bernier

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D is an insightful novel about friendship and marriage that is a beautifully written and compelling read. It is also a thoughtful and thought-provoking examination the impact of fatalism and determinism on friendships and marriages in the post 9/11 world.

When The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D opens, post 9/11, Elizabeth has died in a plane crash leaving behind a husband, Dave, and three young children. She and Dave had an apparently happy marriage — friends enjoyed socialising at their house where children had space to play and adults could relax and talk.

From her early teens, Elizabeth had kept a journal and recorded her thoughts, described day to day experiences and meditated on her relationships. In her will, she left instructions that her friend Kate should read these journals. We don’t know why she has selected Kate over Dave for this task or what she hoped that Kate would take away from the exercise.

Elizabeth’s journals are both fascinating and a burden for Kate who realises how little she really knew her friend. Certainly, Elizabeth’s life experiences had left her with a bleak view of friendship and marriage: “In the end I go back to that same feeling I’ve always had about confidences. The other person rarely has anything useful to offer and usually you leave feeling no better, sometimes worse.”

As Kate reads the journals and reflects on Elizabeth’s often troubled writing, she too questions how much anyone really can know another person.

By leaving the journals to Kate, Elizabeth creates a tension between Dave and Kate that comes to the fore as Kate becomes  increasingly absorbed in the journals. From the journals, Kate learns more than she might have wished to know about the problems in Elizabeth’s marriage. This new knowledge comes as a burden but it also brings her closer to Elizabeth and makes her miss her even more.

Throughout the journals, we  see that Elizabeth was always aware of the complex interrelationship between fatalism and choice. As she puts it, “It was the opposite of fatalism, this stark recognition of the effects of choices that had not seemed much like choices at the time.”

And, the more she reads, the more Kate herself begins to muse on the fatalistic choices and consequences that determine lives.

This is a skillful and a well told tale that is driven forward by a good mystery but at its heart The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D is a serious novel that tackles universal themes and will leave you mulling on the issues it raises long after you close the covers.

An advance copy of  The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D  was provided free of charge by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. : a novel by Nichole Bernier is published by Crown Publishing, New York, 2012.
ISBN 978-0-307-88780-1
eISBN 978-0-307-88781-8

Published: 05 June 2012