Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mad Money

By Linda L. Richards
$0.99 at Smashwords.com

In Mad Money, author Linda L. Richards has done what I didn’t think was possible—interest me in a novel in which the stock market and day trading have a prominent role.

Mad Money is really two mysteries, very different and yet with eerie similarities, and somehow former Manhattan stockbroker turned Los Angeles day trader Madeline Carter ends up in the middle of both.

The novel is so cleverly plotted that the tragedy that unfolds in the first pages, a seemingly stand-alone event serving as the catalyst for Madeline’s change of careers and cross-country move, ends up being central to the solution of the primary mystery.

Madeline moves into a tiny Malibu guest house/apartment on the grounds of the home of movie director Tyler Beckett and his new actress wife.

On her first night in residence, the Becketts invite her to a party they are hosting and she meets Emily, a fledgling assistant movie director who becomes her best friend and to whom she turns for help in solving the mysteries.

The next week she’s at a nightspot having a drink with Emily when, to her chagrin, her Harvard beau of 12 years earlier shows up at her table. The relationship between Ernest Carmichael Billings and Madeline had not ended well, and Madeline has no tender feelings toward him.

However, he’s become a wunderkind in the business world bailing out public companies and turning them around in record time. He’s recently moved to Los Angeles to become CEO of a company called Langton Regional Group. His appointment is a secret, though, until the public announcement is made the following Monday.

Over the weekend, Madeline does something she shouldn’t have: Decides to buy a lot of LRG stock with her nest egg. Presumably, because of Billings’ previous success, the stock price will go up with the announcement of his hiring. What she’s doing is called insider trading since she got a tip from the “inside” and buys her stock before the average investor learns that Billings has come on board at LRG—and that’s not legal.

Madeline makes her initial buy. LRG announces that Billings is the new CEO. The stock starts to go up as expected. Madeline buys more. She starts calculating her profit and thinking about at what price she’ll sell.

Just a few hours later, however, trading of LRG stock is “halted pending announcement.”

It turns out that Billings, the new CEO, never showed at Langton’s headquarters Monday morning. Madeline senses some funny stock business has taken place and wants to find Billings. He’s been kidnapped, but that is no deterrent to her.

What follows is her amateur, yet clever, investigation into Billings’ disappearance. Meanwhile, her landlord’s 17-year-old daughter goes missing and is also believed kidnapped. Madeline adds this disappearance to her investigative load and works leads on both at the same time.

The development of the story, the characters, the dialogue and the twists along the way put this e-book in the same category with mysteries from the big publishing houses that are sold in bookstores across the country. Richards has written a good book.

And, by the way, she has in the works two more Madeline Carter novels. I’m ready.

Click here to link to Mad Money.

--Davilynn Furlow

Death at Pullman

By Frances McNamara
$4.99 at Smashwords and Amazon

One of America’s first great labor struggles provides the setting for Death at Pullman, Frances McNamara’s historical novel about a murder in Pullman, Illinois, during the 1894 strike against the railway car company of that name.

The murder occurs during a strike/lockout in which the nascent labor movement is taking on the powerful manufacturer of luxury passenger cars. A young Pullman worker is found hanging in a shed with a sign around his neck proclaiming “Spy.” The discovery sets off the kind of finger-pointing and conspiracy theorizing that often follows anonymous violence occurring in the midst of bitter conflicts. Did the young man’s striking colleagues really discover that he was spying on them for the Pullman Company? Did George Pullman’s goons stage the murder to create suspicion and threaten the workers’ solidarity? Could the cause have been another, more personal reason?

Emily Cabot, a protégé of the great reformer Jane Addams, whose Hull House sits in a Chicago slum, is the book’s protagonist and voice. Robber baron George Pullman, who owns the town and controls the local police and the dreaded Pinkertons, is the villain of the tale. His counterpart is labor founding father Eugene V. Debs, leader of the American Railway Union. Pullman workers technically were not railway men, but the union sought to organize them and supported their strike.

George Pullman had built what appeared to be an idyllic town for his workers, and he was full of righteous indignation that mere working men, even women, would challenge his absolute right to set both the wages paid his employees and the rents charged for their housing.

Though McNamara – and probably any other right-thinking person – is sympathetic to the striking workers who were less interested in building a labor movement than in trying to survive and feed their families, she gives a balanced account of the economic realities Pullman faced. Orders for his cars had fallen sharply, dragging down his revenues with them.

Emily Cabot and Dr. Stephen Chapman have been sent to Pullman by Jane Addams to help feed and attend to the striking workers and their families. Emily has an on-again-off-again love interest in Chapman, and the book includes enough light romance to offset the brawny action.

As a murder mystery, Death at Pullman is serviceable. But it is its well-researched descriptions of people and places and its depiction of the ground-breaking struggle between management and labor that set it apart. A reader who would never pick up a history book on the subject will enjoy the story and consider the educational factor an added, even subliminal bonus.

I have not read the other books in McNamara’s Emily Cabot series, Death at Hull House and Death at the Fair, which also are set in the Chicago area of the late 19th century. But if they are on par with this one, their value proposition more than justifies inclusion on our Great Books Under $5 blog.

Click here to link to Death at Pullman.

Bill Furlow