Other People's Money

( 7 )

Overview

In a world still uneasy after the financial turmoil of 2008, Justin Cartwright puts a human face on the dishonesties and misdeeds of the bankers who imperiled us. Tubal and Co. is a small, privately owned bank in England. As the company's longtime leader, Sir Harry Tubal, slips into senility, his son Julian takes over the reins-and not all is well. The company's hedge fund now owns innumerable toxic assets, and Julian fears what will happen when their real value is discovered.

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Other People's Money: A Novel

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Overview

In a world still uneasy after the financial turmoil of 2008, Justin Cartwright puts a human face on the dishonesties and misdeeds of the bankers who imperiled us. Tubal and Co. is a small, privately owned bank in England. As the company's longtime leader, Sir Harry Tubal, slips into senility, his son Julian takes over the reins-and not all is well. The company's hedge fund now owns innumerable toxic assets, and Julian fears what will happen when their real value is discovered.

Artair Macleod, an actor manager whose ex-wife, Fleur, was all but stolen by Sir Harry, discovers that his company's monthly grant has not been paid by Tubal. Getting no answers from Julian, he goes to the local press, and an eager young reporter begins asking questions. Bit by bit, the reporter discovers that the grant money is in fact a payoff from Fleur, written off by the bank as a charitable donation, and a scandal breaks. Julian's temperament and judgment prove a bad fit for the economic forces of the era, and the family business plunges into chaos as he tries to hide the losses and massage the balance sheet.

A story both cautionary and uncomfortably familiar, Other People's Money is not a polemic but a tale of morality and hubris, with the Tubal family ultimately left searching only for closure. Bold, humane, urbane, full of rich characters, and effortlessly convincing, this is a novel that reminds us who we are and how we got ourselves here.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this mundane take on life in the era of global financial crisis, Cartwright (In Every Face I Meet) focuses on British bankers behaving somewhat badly, and the repercussions that ripple through one prominent family, and society more broadly. Sir Harry Trevelyan-Tubal is the aged patriarch of Tubal and Co., a privately held bank synonymous with respectability and exclusivity. In poor health, Harry is ensconced in Provence while his son, Julian, handles the business, where, thanks to some unwise dallying with complex financial instruments, things are looking bleak. As Julian engages in backroom maneuvers to shore up the bank, theater producer and playwright Artair MacCleod stops receiving his quarterly stipend from the Tubal family trust that he was granted during his long-ago divorce from Harry's current wife. This failure of payment proves significant when it becomes known to an ambitious young journalist who takes an interest in MacCleod's situation. Cartwright is intent on compassionately portraying regular folks as well as those who operate the levers of power—the bankers are indeed his most convincing characters—but the overall chilly, deflated feeling does few favors for a book that intends to humanize grand contemporary ills. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

"A tale half comic and half cautionary—and all compelling—about the financial crisis. Witty, thoughtful, briskly paced and entertaining—a terrific novel about excess, hubris, class and the age-old (usually one-sided) tussle between art and commerce."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"With wit and keen observation, OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY is an entertaining, observant, and informative excursion into a distant world surprisingly close at hand." —Booklist

Kirkus Reviews - Kikus Reviews
From South African/British novelist Cartwright (To Heaven by Water, 2009,etc.), a winner of the Whitbread Award and Hawthornden Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, a tale half comic and half cautionary—and all compelling—about the financial crisis.

Tubal and Co. is a small, ancient private bank in London, and its longtime chief, Sir Harry Trevelyan-Tubal, has drafted his younger son Julian into the business and then retired to Antibes, where he's been overtaken by senility. Meanwhile, Julian has fallen for the siren song of "risk-free" derivatives, and the bank's hedge fund is awash in toxic assets—now toxic liabilities. Julian pumps into the bank as much family money as he can, and somebackers' capital as well,to prop up the balance sheet while hecourts a buyer,a blunt-talking, rough-edged Chicagoannamed Cy (anda rare dip for Cartwright into cliché). Meanwhile, Artair MacCleod, a septuagenarianactor-manager who's fallen far, from Shakespeare in London to living in a Cornish boathouse and directingprimary-school productions ofThe Wind in the Willows, finds himself suddenly cut off from his usual means of support. He was married to Sir Harry's now-wife, Fleur, once an aspiring actress, and after Sir Harry swepther away, he arranged to pay reparations in the form of a modest annual "arts grant" to Artair.The wonderfully gusty, cranky,self-dramatizing Artair, no shrinking violet, lets a young Cornish newspaper blogger know about his plight, and by a series of small, odd, but persuasively detailed steps, Artair's missing grant for provincial children's theater comes to threatenthe centuries-old bank's sale, even its existence.

Witty, thoughtful, briskly paced and entertaining—a terrific novel about excess, hubris, class and the age-old (usually one-sided) tussle between art and commerce.

Kirkus Reviews
From South African/British novelist Cartwright (To Heaven by Water, 2009,etc.), a winner of the Whitbread Award and Hawthornden Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, a tale half comic and half cautionary—and all compelling—about the financial crisis.

Tubal and Co. is a small, ancient private bank in London, and its longtime chief, Sir Harry Trevelyan-Tubal, has drafted his younger son Julian into the business and then retired to Antibes, where he's been overtaken by senility. Meanwhile, Julian has fallen for the siren song of "risk-free" derivatives, and the bank's hedge fund is awash in toxic assets—now toxic liabilities. Julian pumps into the bank as much family money as he can, and somebackers' capital as well,to prop up the balance sheet while hecourts a buyer,a blunt-talking, rough-edged Chicagoannamed Cy (anda rare dip for Cartwright into cliché). Meanwhile, Artair MacCleod, a septuagenarianactor-manager who's fallen far, from Shakespeare in London to living in a Cornish boathouse and directingprimary-school productions ofThe Wind in the Willows, finds himself suddenly cut off from his usual means of support. He was married to Sir Harry's now-wife, Fleur, once an aspiring actress, and after Sir Harry swepther away, he arranged to pay reparations in the form of a modest annual "arts grant" to Artair.The wonderfully gusty, cranky,self-dramatizing Artair, no shrinking violet, lets a young Cornish newspaper blogger know about his plight, and by a series of small, odd, but persuasively detailed steps, Artair's missing grant for provincial children's theater comes to threatenthe centuries-old bank's sale, even its existence.

Witty, thoughtful, briskly paced and entertaining—a terrific novel about excess, hubris, class and the age-old (usually one-sided) tussle between art and commerce.

Malena Watrous
…acerbic and entertaining…Cartwright skewers everyone. Throughout this novel, people wonder who holds the reins in this world, bankers or artists. Both are responsible, Cartwright suggests, for creating our sorry state of affairs. While reality may be grim, this portrayal is a real comedy in which all the characters come out on top, at the expense of other people.
—The New York Times
The Barnes & Noble Review

From Katherine A. Powers's "A READING LIFE" column on The Barnes & Noble Review


I don't know how many times I have asked myself and my friends -- who now begin to sidle away when this hobbyhorse comes up -- why the novelist Justin Cartwright is not better known in this country. The answer may lie in our American deafness to irony and a national tendency toward moral absolutism. Perhaps, too, it has something to do with the quality, perplexing to us, of this Jewish, South African-born Londoner's fascination with Englishness, a fascination part yearning, part mistrust. The yearning is for an ideal which Cartwright found symbolized in Oxford, something that lies, as he said in his paean to that university, Oxford Revisited, "deep in the Anglo-Saxon mind -- excellence, a kind of privilege, a charmed life, deep-veined liberalism, a respect for tradition." On the other hand, his mistrust comes in the form of a leery distaste for "the ideal" as an all-encompassing vision of truth, and for its seductive, delusionary potency.

It's perhaps his novel The Song Before It's Sung that shows the dark, distorting side of the ideal most explicitly. (The book is, among other things, a grand salute to the views of Isaiah Berlin, the thinker Cartwright appears to admire above all others.) A further three, In Every Face I Meet, The Promise of Happiness, and the just-published Other People's Money, are absolute marvels of comedy and intellectual depth.

Other People's Money begins at its story's end with a list of the great persons -- blue-bloods, political pooh-bahs, high diplomatic muck-a-mucks, and far-flung family members -- who have attended the memorial service at St. Paul's Cathedral for Sir Harry Tubal-Trevelyan. He was, we will discover, the head of, Tubal and Co., a family banking house established in 1671. Over the centuries, the Jewish Tubals, now Tubal-Trevelyans, have become assimilated, exemplifying the very essence of Old Albion, while the bank itself emanates stalwart, English soundness. It "sits in the middle of its own magic circle of money -- staid, reassuring, and very, very rich. It pulses benignly, broadcasting goodwill outwards to its clients." Sir Harry's last three years were dimmed by a stroke, but even before that, the business of the bank had been increasingly handled by his son, Julian, who had embraced the new financial instruments of sub-prime derivatives that seemed to create value so ingeniously, bringing astonishing rates of returns. Until, of course, they didn't.

As the action of the novel begins, the bank has lost hundreds of millions of pounds. The idea -- or ideal -- that money could be created without risk and out of nothing, a conceit peddled by the bank's Nobel Prize-winning advisor, proved fatally wrong. "What we didn't realise," Julian says with dismay, "is that the markets have no logic -- unlike mathematics -- and they can be thrown by all sorts of random events, human events."

Julian, who never wanted to be a banker anyway, longs to live with his pert American wife and two little children in a place of beauty and calm -- on the Cote d'Azur, actually. He wants, that is, what only discreet and durable wealth can bring. He hopes to sell the bank to an American investor, but arranging for this has involved some tricky, not to say illegal, maneuvers. He is rigging the books by temporary infusions of cash from various trusts and has managed to get his seriously impaired father to sign over power of attorney -- even as he is selling off the old man's beloved custom-built yacht, a family heirloom. The whole dirty business perturbs Julian's decent soul, but, really, what's the alternative?

Unwanted publicity arises from an unlikely source: Artair MacCleod, a flamboyant Celtic playwright and actor, the near-destitute first husband of Sir Harry's present wife, Fleur. Artair had been receiving a regular stipend from Tubal and Co., now cut off thanks to the bank's tribulations -- a fact which comes to the attention of a small provincial newspaper whose editor would dearly love to expose the malfeasance of the house of Tubal-Trevelyan. For his part, Artair is something of an unwitting pawn; he is absorbed in writing a play based on the life of Flann O'Brien (one of the pen names of the Irish writer Brian O'Nolan). Using O'Brien's works as his text, he is creating further value, as it might be said, by copying the whole thing out with pen and ink with the intention of selling the "original" manuscript to an American university archives.

Flann O'Brien's supposed views -- among them that a novel is tantamount to a confidence game, "inducing the reader to be outwitted in a shabby fashion and caused to experience a real concern for the fortunes of illusory characters" -- have a strong valence with Cartwright's skepticism about self-sufficient narratives. Indeed, he pays flirtatious obeisance to Flann O'Brien's conceits in his own novel's arrangement. Still, dupes though we may be, it is the fortunes, in every sense, of the characters that keep us turning the pages. Aside from Julian, Artair, and Sir Harry -- such as still exists of him -- there are a number, most painted with comic flair and sunny irony. Among them is the soon-to-be-widowed Fleur, who begins to see that her affair with her personal trainer may jeopardize her inheritance (though but a measly £8 million trust fund and £200,000 a year). Also key is Sir Harry's faithful secretary and assistant, Estelle, who wants nothing more than to be accepted as part of the family -- even if it takes a bit of forgery and extortion to bring it about. And then there is reporter and blogger Melissa, a young woman who has recently completed a degree in philosophy and sociology. She increasingly finds that this frame of reference explains nothing about how things actually work in a world that is, not to labor the point, far from ideal.




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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608192731
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 4/12/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 961,019
  • Product dimensions: 8.08 (w) x 5.54 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Justin Cartwright is the author of In Every Face I Meet, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Leading the Cheers, winner of the Whitbread; The Promise of Happiness, winner of the Hawthornden Prize; and White Lightning, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread. He was born in South Africa and now lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

Other People's Money

A Novel
By Justin Cartwright

Bloomsbury USA

Copyright © 2011 Justin Cartwright
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60819-273-1


Chapter One

At this time of year, Antibes is at its best. The almond blossom is out, the sea loses its darkness, the cold rains have mostly been swept mysteriously away, the mistral has cleared the skies and the geraniums are being planted out. There is a sense that the warm earth-life of Provence is beginning again after the longueurs of the winter.

Behind the tastefully crumbling and slowly fading wall that protects the Villa Tubal from the eyes of idle passers-by and garish tourists, the three gardeners are busy. They are Algerian, with sad, stubbled faces. Sir Harry Trevelyan-Tubal likes to sit in the garden. He particularly likes the scent of the umbrella pines and the mimosa, and the waft s of thyme, which come on the mistral off the hillside behind the house. Good health is oft en attributed in these parts to the mistral.

Since his stroke, three years ago, he has difficulty writing, but every morning he dictates letters to his son, who is standing in for him at the bank, giving him his instructions and his advice. He also writes to old friends and to important financial and political figures. His secretary, Estelle, types these letters and they are FedExed to their destination. Now, slightly dragging his left leg–some days it is better than others –he walks for the first time this year along the gravelled path between the low box hedges to his spot on the terrace, where his breakfast is laid out on the blue Provençal pottery he favours for informal occasions. On this terrace overlooking the cove and the boathouse beneath, Churchill once painted, watched by the young Harry. Despite the tardiness of his leg, he doesn't at a distance present a figure of pity. He is elegantly dressed in a light-brown jacket, which has threads of a gold colour woven into it, so that it looks almost vibrant in this clear light; the jacket is paired confidently with plum-coloured trousers and two-tone deck shoes. On his head, partly hiding the thick grey hair, is a panama hat, just sufficiently irregular to indicate to those who care about these things that it is a Montecristi from Lock & Co., who have supplied him with hats for sixty years and more. Nothing in his wardrobe or indeed in the whole villa is vulgar or mass-produced or discordant. In some magical fashion, which doesn't involve interior designers, the villa has reached this state of grace by increments. The Trevelyan-Tubals are not so much at home with their surroundings as the masters of their surroundings. It's as if inanimate objects, even landscape, are subject to their will and taste. And in a sense they are: the landscape, which now looks so natural, was created eighty years ago by Sir Harry's father on a rocky and scrubby peninsula.

Sir Harry's breakfast has been laid on the table and the sunshade has been perfectly positioned so that the plates are in deep shade. Because Lady Trevelyan-Tubal is at Mulgrave House in Chelsea Square–she's been in London all winter–Estelle, seventy-one, sits with him. She does not eat, but sips a café au lait cautiously, and keeps her notebook at the ready for his dictation. Once, many years ago, he told her that the way she drank annoyed him, and so she still sips with determined restraint. But she adores him, and has done for more than thirty years. The bank pays her salary and she has her own small house out of sight, behind the clay tennis court and its pavilion. This little house is itself built in the style of a Provençal mas.

Sir Harry allows her to dab his mouth when crumbs from his almond croissant stick to the foam that eating inexplicably causes to gather in the corners of his half-frozen lips. She has also become his interpreter, because not even his wife can really understand him when he speaks. Estelle doesn't fuss or hurry him.

'Did Julian reply?'

'Not yet, Sir Harry. He is still in Paris at a meeting of the trust, and won't be back until later today. Early evening, probably.'

'Well, look, Estelle, I think we should get on with it, don't you?'

He puts his coffee cup down abruptly and it lands on the terrace, smashing, but he appears not to notice. She summons a maid, who is standing some way off, to clear the table.

He begins. She believes she is able to understand every word, although his voice is strangely distant–she used to think of a bird trapped in a chimney–as if the words are reaching his mouth by a back route. Sometimes she is reminded of her brother Lionel's telephone, made with a length of hosepipe and two baked-bean cans: she had to wait upstairs while he spoke to her from the back garden, his voice faint. He would break off to shout instructions. There are strangled yodelling notes in Sir Harry's vowels, and a wind-instrument harshness in his consonants, so that the rhythms of speech have been scrambled en route from wherever speech originates. But she is used to it.

'My dear Julian, the almond blossom is out and the ...'

He points to the Mediterranean.

'Shall I put "the sea", Sir Harry?'

'Yes, yes of course "the sea".'

'"The sea is ..."?'

'The sea is calm and as blue as a ...'

'"A duck's egg"?'

'Duck egg. Julian, may I remind you that it has always been the policy of Tubal and Co. to look after our animals' (she changes this to 'customers') 'with the greatest possible care, because our livelihood depends upon the silken thread of connection which runs between us and them, and which continues over many lifetimes so that the bank, as I like to say, is in a sense a ...?'

'"A living organism", Sir Harry?'

'A living organism, which depends for its very survival on keeping the lifeblood flowing. Our business ...'

Estelle is happy to see him warming to his theme.

'Our business is based on the confidence ...'

'Of our customers?'

'Our customers, as my father ...'

He falters.

'Sir Ephraim?'

'As my father, Sir Ephraim, was fond of saying. Too fond.'

He stops now and gazes out to sea where the first yachts of the new season have appeared, looking crisp and clean and hopeful.

'Too fond. The shit. We are not running a casino.'

Estelle feels deep sadness. He has dried up. The old phrases have escaped in staccato fashion from inside his head and the supply is diminishing. She will tidy them up before sending them. Her sadness is not without an element of self-interest, because for the last thirty two years she has been the pilot fish to his whale, swimming in his bow-wave, deeply but discreetly in love, and now she can see that the magnificent whale is beached. She doesn't say it to anyone, but he has more or less been abandoned by the family. Young Simon is in the African jungle and Julian hardly ever visits and Fleur hasn't been since Christmas. She seems to spend her days in the gym. She obviously finds her husband's condition difficult to live with.

His eyes are still turned towards the Mediterranean. He sees, she thinks, only blobs of colour, like the Matisse of a view through a window to the port of Collioure, his first purchase in 1952, which hangs in the front hall and which these days he oft en looks at for hours on end. She knows it cost him £4,900 and is worth some millions now. Twenty million at least. But he has absolutely no interest in the value of his paintings and only sells if he tires of a painter. Nonetheless she is logging them all in her spare time. The world for him has lost its infinite subtlety. His speech suggests that his understanding is not what it was, but she hopes that, in his brain, somewhere behind the portal where the words appear, he is still able to understand and appreciate these subtleties. He once delighted in surprisingly small natural things and events–seasonal changes and moss on the path and birdsong and the bindings of books–as well as the opera, the ballet and a day or two fishing for salmon on the Tay or for trout of his stretch of the upper reaches of the River Test, where the waters are clear and the trout wary. Many of the bank's clients have enjoyed the box at the opera and the openings of the exhibitions that Sir Harry sponsored. Julian doesn't like the opera. He thinks it diverts attention from the real aims of the bank, which are the creation of value, and sends out the wrong message, in ways that his father doesn't begin to understand. Before his stroke, his father had railed against hedge funds, apparently unaware that hedge funds were, for a while, responsible for a sixty per cent growth in their clients' portfolios. That had made them a whole lot happier than a few nights watching men in tights leaping about at Covent Garden. Under Julian's regime–until recently–the bank sponsored golf and a whole day at Ascot. Horse racing, of course, appeals to the Gulf States, but now, she has learned, all sponsorships are under review.

Estelle hasn't told Sir Harry that the box has been sold. He still speaks of going to the opera and of taking a party to Glyndebourne. Estelle has the impression that Fleur is embarrassed to be seen with him, now that he stumbles and sometimes dribbles, and speaks in this strange, trapped-avian voice. She is much younger than Sir Harry, but then she knew that when she left the playwright to marry him.

Estelle looks at him as he stares out to sea. She wonders what he is truly thinking. Somehow, despite the tragedy that has taken him, he seems to retain his ability to be cheerful and also to choose unerringly what to wear. At a distance there is nothing of the invalid about him although close up the skin of his face has a sort of white, fungal bloom. Like an apple stored in a shed. He is too thin, so that as he sits his thighs barely disturb the plum trousers. They look like the trousers on a marionette, lacking substance. Yet he seems serene. Occasionally, as he is dictating his letters to Julian, he becomes agitated. Now he watches a yacht tacking on the bay with approval.

'We must get the ...'

He points at the yacht.

'The boat out?'

'Yes. Tell ...'

'Bryce?'

'Tell Bryce that I want it out before Christmas.'

'Easter, I think. I will make a note.'

'Julian and the children want sail.'

He never forgets Julian's name and Estelle finds this touching. At that moment one of the house servants, Antoine, walks over. He speaks to Estelle in English, because she has never learned much French.

'Madame, there is a gentleman at the gate. He wishes to speak with Monsieur Julian.'

'Who is he?'

'He is the Russian gentleman who has bought Villa Floriana.'

'I will speak to him.'

Estelle goes to the front gate. It is their new neighbour, Boris Vladykin, standing there in very large shorts. He is sweating and his breath smells of alcohol.

'Good morning, Mr Vladykin.'

'I want speak to Mr Julian.'

His face is broad and sweaty; the spring sunshine is hot.

'He is not here, but he is coming soon. What do you wish to discuss?'

His English is poor.

'I want to talk to Mr Julian about boat.'

'Niobe is in the boatyard at the port for repairs. I don't know anything more. Goodbye, Mr Vladykin. Mr Julian is coming down next week. He will know.'

She shuts the gate and walks back through the house and out on to the terrace. Vladykin rings the bell again, but she ignores him.

Harry makes a noise, which Estelle interprets.

'It was Mr Vladykin. I don't know what he wants. He was wearing those ghastly shorts.'

Harry is disturbed. His face is flushed and his eyes are pained and restless. She wonders what Vladykin wants. She feels a spreading unease. The barbarians are at the gate.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Other People's Money by Justin Cartwright Copyright © 2011 by Justin Cartwright. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 14, 2011

    A British Bernie Madoff story

    This is sort of a British version of a Bernie Madoff story. Except that in this story, a traditional and respected British bank misuses other people's money. And the results are a bit different. The story is really about the family bankers and their personal lives and how the growing scandal affects each of them, the bank's reputation, and their private fortunes. Marrying for youth and beauty and marrying for power and money are themes as well. And, of course, the big, bad American financier plays a role, too. Not to mention the journalists who sniff the story and attempt to expose it, including a young upstart who earns the first tip and has to run with it. Her crusty old editor uses her to try to land the big fish and end his career with a bang. Not all turns out as these characters expect. This was a fast read, absorbing, and the ending is full of complicated maneuvers and a few unexpected results.

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    Posted April 27, 2011

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