Reviewed by Jill Franclemont

Everybody seems to like learning about the “secret” lives of the rich and powerful. At least, it seems that way to me. Memoirs, tell-all biographies, bio-pics, television shows (reality and sit-com and drama) abound. The Darlings is Cristina Alger’s version.

I am as susceptible to this genre as anybody else. I find it ridiculous fun to read the descriptions of lavish settings, parties, and accoutrements. I will also admit to a tish of schadenfreude-ish glee when their uppance finally comes. It inevitably does, of course, because (if the genre is to be believed) the lifestyles of the rich and famous in these books/movies/shows always seem to hinge on some sort of wrong-doing.

For the Darling family, the Achilles heel is the world of high finance. The novel tells the tale of Paul Ross, a brilliant but mostly otherwise regular fellow who married into the Darlings. He’s a lawyer, married to the “nice” daughter, and a generally good guy (as the brilliant-but-mostly-otherwise-regular fellows in these stories always are). So of course, he finds himself in a bit of a pickle – save himself or go with the family – when scandal and Big Drama inevitably strikes.

Sound familiar so far? I thought so too. These stories do tend to be relatively formulaic, so I rather expected it to feel familiar. But still. Even with that expectation firmly in place, I had to keep checking the publication date (February 2012) and the “Advance Uncorrected Proofs” mark on my copy, because it felt like I’d seen this book before. Even the name of the family was familiar, having been the name of the society folk who main-charactered the recent TV show “Dirty Sexy Money”.

The Darlings is engaging and easy to read, with a panoply of characters full of eccentricities and egos. It falls into a nice routine, following the path well-trodden by other books of its genre. Don’t think that means that it wasn’t enjoyable. It was just not exactly in what I would call a “fast-paced thriller of epic proportions” sort of way.

Reviews and blurbs have billed this as one of the first books to talk about the latest Wall Street crisis. It may be that, and the specific financial elements of the crisis may be different – I’m not enough of a Wall Street follower to really know – but the fundamental story (greed leads to downfall) is as old as the hills, and in that regard the book felt a little overly-familiar for me.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

A former corporate attorney and government relations/health policy executive, Jill-Elizabeth walked away from that world (well, skipped actually) and toward a more literary life (equally challenging, but infinitely more enjoyable). If you enjoyed this review, please visit her at Jill-Elizabeth.com, the official home of All Things Jill-Elizabeth – that is, all of the teehees, musings, rants, book reviews, writing exercises, and witticisms of her burgeoning writing career.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Pamela Dorman Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.