Hedge Fiction: Murder, Mayhem, Prosopagnosia

Chidem Kurdas

Reading The Gods of Greenwich by Norb Vonnegut made me feel sorry for Steven Cohen. He is featured in this novel as the familiar “Stevie” who runs SAC Capital in Stamford. A main character, a hedge fund manager who collects art, “wants to become Stevie Cohen”. This is presumably meant to give real hedge fund color to this garden-variety crime caper.

The book contains one amusing character. But not a lord of the market—-rather, an angelic-looking blond nurse named Rachel. She comes across as the sharpest thinker and ablest operator among the whole cast. An RN in her day job, Rachel has a second career as a contract killer.  She’s a natural at this; she murders with great flair and enjoys watching her victims die.

What little suspense the story offers centers on the identity of her employer, which becomes fairly obvious early in the tale. However, the murder scenes are entertaining. Thus the lovely nurse, using an oversized condom to choke a 70-something man, tells him in her Texas twang, “Just relax, honey. It goes easier.”

The author, a cousin of novelist Kurt Vonnegut, worked at Silvercrest Asset Management, Morgan Stanley, Paine Webber, Kidder Peabody and Chase Manhattan, according to publicity materials. With that background, it is surprising how unreal and clumsy his depiction is of the financial world.

There is a good hedge fund manager—you know he’s a sweet guy because he loves his wife even after her rich father takes money out of the son-in-law’s fund. As apparently required these days in fiction, she has a disability. Hers is prosopagnosia, an inability to recognize faces.

Her husband, the nice young manager, has worked at Goldman Sachs and is supposedly smart. But like the other hedgies in this book, he comes across as clueless. He has to be told by his lawyer that if he can’t make the mortgage payments on his condo, the lender will foreclose. How would a high-end financial player know something like that!

The other hedge fund manager, the one said to take Mr. Cohen as his model, is thoroughly dreadful. Not only is he a thug, even worse from a fictional perspective, he’s dull. He has no idea how to make money. He short sells Icelandic banks in the financial crisis but is trapped by two cousins from Reykjavik, who take advantage of his interest in art. This side plot implies that short selling is another instance of moral turpitude, though one’s main impression is the manager’s stupidity.

This tale fits the current politically correct cliché that finance and crime are two sides of the same coin. The setting is so phony and most of the figures so dim, the annoyance detracts from one’s enjoyment of the intricate executions by the charming nurse. The last chapters drag, though the ending has a nice bite to it.

Maybe some day somebody will write an intelligent novel about people who play the markets.

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