I recently received a review copy of The Darlings by Cristina Alger to promote Penguin's release of the paperback edition. I had actually looked at this book several times when it was first out in hardcover but, for whatever reason, hadn't pulled the trigger on reading it. It's a novel that's best described as a combination of what I might call a financial thriller and recession fiction. And while those sub-genres may sound very different from the types of books I commonly pick up, the combination of them actually made for a pretty entertaining read.
The novel centers around the prominent and wealthy Darling family: patriarch Carter, CEO of a successful financial firm, his typical Park Avenue wife Ines, his glamorous daughter Lily, and his smart and sensible daughter Merrill. Living up to their surname, they truly are the darlings of Manhattan's social and business worlds. In the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, the Darlings are just managing to stay afloat and maintain their lavish lifestyle. Then scandal hits when a prominent suicide brings to light the fact that Carter's company had ties to a Bernie Madolf-like Ponzi scheme. It becomes clear that someone from the Darling family will have to take the fall, and a race to reveal the truth will determine whether that person will be Carter himself or Merrill's earnest and hardworking husband Paul, an honorary Darling by marriage, who finds himself torn between family loyalty and his own integrity.
A large cast of supporting characters--from lawyers to journalists to SEC investigators--becomes involved in unraveling the truth about the Darlings, and, although these ended up being some of my favorite characters in the book, this was one area in which I thought the novel faltered a bit. Each and every character was vividly and sympathetically drawn, managing to humanize even the most unlikeable of them. However, going into such detail about all of the peripheral figures had the negative side effect of breaking the momentum of the main plot at times. The beginning of the novel felt like a slow enough start as each of the main Darling characters was introduced. Then, just when the action started rolling and I found myself getting invested in the suspense of the financial investigation, there would be a break when a new supporting character came on the scene, and his or her backstory would be covered in detail. These backstories were all well crafted and made me feel invested in the characters in question, but ultimately left me feeling a little bit unsatisfied at the end of the book when there was no real resolution for them. I would have preferred to either see these subplots edited down or cut entirely, so as not to feel like such a tease, or to see the book lengthened just enough to devote some time to wrapping them up.
That being said, the times when the main action of the book kicked in were truly suspenseful and engaging. The Darlings is a novel that deals with meaty, timely topics, but in a way that still manages to feel like a frivolous, purely entertaining read. If corporate thrillers or white collar suspense novels are your thing, then this novel might be worth trying for a new variation on a theme.