The Billion Dollar Whale, by Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, describes the looting of Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund by con man Jho Low and his associates. Although this story has been in the news for years, and many are familiar with its outlines, the book provides rich details about a series of financial crimes whose scope and audacity is breathtaking. Jho Low came from a family in Penang provice, Malaysia, that had enough money to send him to boarding school at Harrow, where he met the children of some of the world’s richest families.
Black Money is the thirteenth book in Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series. It opens with Archer discussing the terms of a new case over lunch at a tennis club in the fictional coastal town of Montevista, CA, an hour or so south of Los Angeles. The client, Peter Jamieson, is twenty-four years old, rich, depressed, and increasingly fat as he eats away the sorrows of a broken engagement. Jamieson wants Archer to investigate his former lover’s new fiance, a supposedly wealthy Frenchman named Francis Martel, who Jamieson and a number of others suspect is a fraud.
The Girl on the Velvet Swing tells the story of the 1906 murder of famed American architect Stanford White, who was shot to death before a crowd of New York’s elite at the opening night performance of a play at Madison Square Garden, one of the city’s architectural landmarks, which he himself designed. After the shooting, White’s assailant, the young millionaire Harry K. Thaw handed his pistol to a fireman and calmly walked to the police station in the company of a single officer.
David Howard’s Chasing Phil follows the story of two agents from the FBI’s Gary, Indiana office who go undercover to infiltrate a ring of stunningly audacious and startlingly successful con men in the mid-1970s. When agents Jack Brennan and J.J. Wedick get a tip about a guy who ripped off a pizza store owner with bogus loan papers, they ask permission from their supervisor to go undercover. The idea was to record the con man, Phil Kitzer, making incriminating statements and possibly mentioning the names of other scammers the FBI could pursue.
Williams is one of the great underappreciated American crime writers of the 20th century. A Touch of Death, first published in 1953, bears the hallmarks of many of his other works: a down-and-out guy around thirty years old who’s not as smart as he thinks he is, a very smart and practical woman who’s more interested in getting things done than in sticking anyone else’s ideas of morality, and a seemingly simple caper that turns out to be vastly more complicated than it first appears.
This is a superb piece of journalism and one of the best true crime books I’ve read. In fact, it goes far beyond true crime, richly portraying every stratum of an entire culture and era. The core of the story concerns the sudden and mysterious 1969 death of a wealthy young woman who was well known and well liked throughout her community. The woman’s marriage had been in trouble at the time of her death.
I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without discovering Cornell Woolrich. I had heard of him, but I had never read his work until now. The blurb on the cover of the book compares Woolrich to Raymond Chandler. I would actually say he’s quite a bit deeper and more nuanced. While Chandler focuses on the social world, Woolrich focuses much more tightly on the interior world of his main character.
This book contains some brilliant writing and colorful characters. It’s a freewheeling 1970s update on the classic noir detective novel. The book begins just as private eye C.W. Sughrue is catching up to famed author Abraham Trahearne. Trahearne has been touring the seedy dive bars of the western states on an epic bender since his second wife disappeared. Sughrue was hired by the author’s first wife to bring him back home.
Charles Williams’ The Big Bite is very good crime/noir thriller, though it’s not quite up there with his brilliant 1953 noir The Hot Spot.The cover of Pocket Books’ 1973 reprint of The Big Bite. The story is better than the cover, and it takes place in the 1950s, not the 1970s. John Harlan’s pro football career has ended after another driver hit him in what appeared to be a drunk-driving accident.
Harry Madox has drifted in and out of a number of jobs, and has one failed marriage and some unspecified debts under his belt. When the story opens, he’s just landing a job as a car salesman in 1950’s small-town Texas. He’s not in town long before he meets two women. The young, sweet Gloria Harper brings out the best in him, against his nature and sometimes against his will. And then there’s the boss’ wife, Dolores Harshaw, who has a knack for getting him into and out of trouble.
1 of 2 Next Page