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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, February 17, 2002

Books on Finance a Good Investment of Your Time

With Enron and insider trading in the daily headlines, Wall Street seems an appropriate topic for this month's column. I chose a few novels and a historical anthology, all of which improved my paltry knowledge of the stock market.

The Day Trader by Stephen Frey (Ballantine Books, 2002).

Stephen Frey has been called the John Grisham of financial thrillers. He's used his considerable professional expertise in corporate finance to produce six previous novels, including The Insider and Trust Fund.

In Frey's latest, Augustus McKnight quits his job as a sales rep for a paper products company to become a day trader. For a thousand dollars a month, he rents a desk at a day trading firm, which gives him access to the software package Trader One as well as research analysis and real-time stock quotes.

Originally intending to use a $50,000 nest egg inherited from his mother, he ends up having a million dollars at his disposal after the murder of his estranged wife. Hounded by an insurance investigator as well as a local homicide detective, he has to stay one step ahead of danger while juggling risky stock deals and trying to find out who really killed his wife. Don't even try to guess the end.

Pen Pals by Olivia Goldsmith (Dutton, 2002).

Olivia Goldsmith is known as the author of women's revenge novels. Her first work, First Wives Club, where three well-heeled New York wives declare war on their ex-husbands, was made into a movie of the same name with Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton.

"Pen Pals" refers to friends behind prison bars, not writing buddies. Goldsmith's heroine is a beautiful, rich young stockbroker named Jennifer Spencer who has taken the fall in an insider trading investigation. Convinced by both her trusted fiancé/lawyer and her adored boss that she will get off with a slap on the wrist, she is instead sentenced to three to five years in Jennings Correctional Facility for Women.

In prison, Jennifer grows up. Assigned by kind-hearted warden Gwen Harding to a "crew" headed by savvy lifer Movita Watson, Jennifer slowly sheds her pampered past and begins to empathize with her fellow prisoners. With the help of a Jean Harris-clone (remember the real-life upscale headmistress who killed philandering Scarsdale Diet Doctor Herman Tarnower?) she uses her financial knowledge to better prison conditions.

Pen Pals is a humorous, warm-hearted look at some serious criminal justice issues.

Bad Connection by Michael Ledwidge (Pocket Books, 2001).

Ledwidge is a New York City telephone man and former mid-Manhattan doorman who is a graduate of Manhattan College. This is his second well-received suspense novel.

Sean Macklin is a telephone repairman who inadvertently taps into a secret Wall Street conversation that directs him toward a very lucrative stock purchase. Once hooked, he continues tapping into phone lines to get insider tips. When he overhears a call involving a corporate cover-up of murder, he seeks to redress the wrong, only to involve his bad cop brother and disabled wife in a downward spiral of trouble.

A "mean streets" kind of novel, where none of the characters are very nice or very likeable, this is an exciting, unpredictable thriller.

Eyewitness to Wall Street; Four Hundred Years of Dreamers, Schemers, Busts and Booms by David Colbert (Broadway Books, 2001).

What's more incredible than the Enron collapse is the fact that it's just the latest in a long list of Wall Street scandals. Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, the Salomon Brothers, Liar's Poker, the Keating Five, Black Monday (October 19, 1987), E.F. Hutton, RJR Nabisco, the Prudential-Bache scandal, and the recent Nasdaq crash all show up in these pages.

The author intersperses informational blurbs with excerpted accounts from books, and newspaper and magazine articles to cover 400 years of Wall Street in 400 pages. It's a "Reader's Digest" sort of work but could be quite useful and entertaining for the financial layman.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.