Monday, October 24, 2011

James Caterino's review

Sep 22, 11

bookshelves: fiction

Read from September 19 to 22, 2011

The author of Toxic Assets understands the most vital rule of writing in any format or genre. Start your story off with a bang! This novel opens up mid-action with a riveting scene that transports the reader directly into the story.

Toxic Assets is a story about high finance and banking. It is about greed and murder. It is about the slick and shady characters who operate in the world of white collar crime...and scheme to get away with it. It is Wall Street meets Newport Beach. It is Too Big to Fail meets the dark side of Dynasty channeled through the literary voice of dramatic modern angst. It is the story of a woman who has the courage to navigate and compete in this high stakes universe of paper profits and smoke and mirror shanangans.

All of the supporting characters are well defined but the standout is the egomaniacal and manipulative Blake. He is the Gordon Gekko of the mortgage business. Instead of Gekko's catch phrase "greed is good", Blake prefers the equally as sinister mantra of "net worth equals human worth". This is a brilliantly drawn character, and a frighteningly realistic one, as our all of the profit obsessed banking executives in this novel. Trust me, these people do exist and have more power than you can possibly imagine.

What I loved most about this book is the insiders perspective on the how the real estate 2008 bubble was created. Of course this is fiction and the dramatic story always takes center stage. But the details on how these morgage securities were packed together, mislabled, and greedily hyped are very accurate. If you want to know why the economy is still stuggling and why it will never be the same again, this is a book you want to read.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I worked in a related industry to the world presented in this book. Although that does make everything in the novel more accessible, it also means everything has to ring true for the book to work for me. I can tell you that the depictions of both the industry and the characters who populate this world are spot on. This feels like it written by someone who knows the business and has fought more than a few battles amid the scheming thuggery that is the world of corporate high finance.

There is this wonderful paragraph that opens Chapter 4 about "Office life has its own set of rules...". The author's ability to capture the atmosphere of the workplace really helps bring the character of Catherine and her journey to vividly to life. Another thing that works in this book is the style and tone. Toxic Assets takes a moderistic, present tense, almost Chuck Palahniuk like approach to the story telling. It is a perfect fit for both the material, and the fierce lead character. The staccota like prose and descriptions of Newport Beach reminded me of Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters, one of my favorite books. The author also does a great job building up the dramatic suspense during a "Presidents Circle" corporate sales retreat at an island resort as this financial thriller races into the final act where the novel takes on an epic scope.

It does not matter if you never have watched a lick of CNBC and don't know CDO's from CD-R's, or preferred stock from livestock. Toxic Assets is a stylish, thrilling story and a relevant, page turning read.

Review Toxic Assets
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