The Wizard of Lies tells the story of the Madoff Ponzi scheme, but its a story in two acts. The first act is predictable; how Bernie Madoff got started, how he developed his scheme and how he managed to fool very sophisticated investors into believing that consistent, steady returns could be obtained without ever incurring a loss. That story is worth the trip alone, but it's really Act Two in the book that is equally compelling. That portion of the book tells the story of what happened after Madoff was caught (or gave himself up - he was never really "caught" although he should have been many times before his ultimate demise). That story tells the continued greed of the defrauded investors, with the "net winners" claiming that they were entitled to what turned out to be ill-gotten gains at the expense of the "net losers." The efforts of the bankruptcy trustee to recover as much money as possible for those who lost money given to Madoff is as fascinating, and complex as the story of the original scheme. Sorting out the truly "innocent" victims from the opportunists was no easy task.
The narration by Pam Ward is smooth and she keeps the narrative going. As so little of the book is "dialogue" she does not resort to different voices to help the listener distinguish the participants. However, with slight inflection changes, she is able to convey the essence of some of the key players, for example, the arrogance of the two original accountants who profited off of Madoff's scheme and left before the house of cards came crashing down.
There are some shortcomings in the book. Madoff's purported investment strategy is mis-described by the author at some points, so if you already know the finer points of option trading, you will be slightly jarred to realize that the writer may not fully understand what Madoff claimed to be doing. However, for the listener not schooled in options, this is a minor point and should not distract from the story.
It was pretty clear that Jance was using this book as a transition on the main character's life - as an alcoholic poice detective that has to confront the nature of his addiction. However, the actual mystery plot line was pretty thin, and without giving anything away, Jance never really explained the eventual murderer's motiviation. Too much was
While this was not Jance's best, the series in general has been a compelling mystery series, and I will continue to follow the career of J.P. Beaumont.
One consistent hallmark about the series has been the performance of Gene Engene. He has perfectly captured the persona of J.P. Beaumont. As so much of Jance's writing is personal narrative by Beaumont, the voice that reads this takes on greater importance. At times, Engene's performance is reminiscent of 30's radio mysteries - and that's a good thing.
If this was the first Jance book you listened to, you might dismiss it as a lightweight mystery that failed in the critical plot development. However, if you start the series from the beginning, it's a still a good listen.
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