I was on vacation last week (with all the requisite social distancing procedures) and I did a lot of vacation reading. I’m not sure why but lately I’ve been on a non-fiction kick, thus, three out of the four books I read were non-fic. Fortunately for me, everything I read was at least good and all merited the coveted 4-stars.
I became interested in this story when I learned that Steve Cohen and Preet Bharara’s relationship was the basis for the hit Showtime show Billions. I’ve only seen a few episodes but I wanted to learn more about the true story behind it. I’m not an expert on finance but I appreciate folks like Michael Lewis who can break things down easy for the layperson such as myself, a la Michael Lewis. Sheela Kolhatkar has that gift. She’s not in Lewis’ class but she’s talented and I was able to follow the story clearly, learning what a hedge fund actually does, how they’ve impacted Wall Street and the interesting genius/criminality of SAC Capital. Sometimes, the bad guys win and this is a story of how. As a side note: given the foibles of both the New York Mets and Major League Baseball, it would’ve been hilarious if Steve Cohen’s deal for them had gone through before he was the focus of a criminal investigation. Very on brand for both.
Luke Harding’s Collusion is one of the best Trump era books I’ve read. Harding, a stellar Guardian reporter and veteran journo, is able to get at the root of what goes on behind Russia’s new iron curtain as they attempt to sabotage liberal democracy in the West. This focuses more on the Russian aspects of the story than the Trump ones as his previous book did but one gets a clear picture of what Russia is trying to do and how they go about it. What’s especially harrowing is the arrogance of both the American and British media apparatus respectively that they didn’t take these threats more seriously; blaming Russia’s involvement as hysteria from enemies of the right. Russia may not be the power it was in the last century but it’s doing all it can to put itself on equal footing with the Western world and we continue to ignore them at our own peril.
Murder in the Bayou
The Jeff Davis 8 murders were apparently one of the inspirations for Nic Pizzolatto’s first season of True Detective. Like many properties Pizzolatto engages with, I can’t help but feeling like he came away with all of the wrong lessons. Ethan Brown is a competent writer and, most importantly, he respects the humanity of the female victims here. There are no titillating descriptions of their bodies, no glamorizing the sad sex-and-drugs trade, no appeals to some sort of Cajun Illuminati. Just an autopsy of the circumstances of these women’s deaths and the likely perpetrators of them (probably law enforcement and people connected to them), set in the misery of Jefferson Parish, an underfunded, underserved swamp of humidity and humane-less behavior. Brown covers this the way one would cover a longform piece, leaving questions open-ended as they should be and keeping the focus on those who died. One of the better true crime novels to deal with such a subject.
The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep
The incredibly random spy/thief/espionage series from old favorite Lawrence Block begins here and it’s a lot of fun. All the humor Block doesn’t really pull off in his Bernie Rhodenbarr series shines through here. Tanner is an interesting character and Block does a great job in such a small book of describing the scenes throughout Europe where he’s jet setting in order to find this mysterious gold. I needed another series to read from Block since finishing the Scudder novels. The Bernie ones have been a tad disappointing but this might work.