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Bet Your Life Paperback – October 14, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Dooling, who was an NBA finalist for his White Man's Grave a few years back, never writes the same kind of book twice, and this time he's produced a sort of techno-noir thriller set within the confines of the insurance business. The reader learns a great deal about insurance scams and the cynicism pervading the industry, and the Omaha setting is piquant for its contrast with the high-living, trendy insurance investigators who are the book's stars, but the book's virtues end there. The plot is extraordinarily convoluted, with villains both expected and unexpected popping up every few pages, and neither Carver Hartnett, the narrator; his alcoholic, pill-popping buddy, Leonard Stillmach, whose mysterious death precipitates the action; nor beautiful but apparently unattainable Miranda Pryor are either appealing or believable. Carver, for instance, plays teenage blow-'em-away computer games with Leonard, Miranda downs gallons of vintage wine while fending off Carver's advances and all are given to sudden pseudo-profound pronouncements. One scene, in which Carver goes after Miranda while spouting chunks of the Abraham and Isaac story from the Bible, only to have her reply in kind, is an over-the-top classic of weirdness. There are nice touches-a low-profile local homicide detective sneering at the high-tech FBI, for instance-but for the most part the book is a stylistically perplexing mess.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
"In my line of work, we call it the f-word. Not the familiar obscenity but a close cousin and mercenary variant called fraud." Narrator Carver Harnett's job is to investigate insurance scams for Reliable Allied Trust in Omaha, NE, but it's a thankless task because "fraud runs through the insurance business like waste through a treatment plant," and the company would rather raise premiums on their honest customers than prosecute the fraudulent. When a fellow investigator is fired and later dies mysteriously, Carver discovers that deception and trickery run close to home. Why did the late Lenny Stillmach buy and then sell several life insurance policies worth a half million dollars to Heartland Viatical, a company he was supposed to be investigating? Did Lenny really have AIDS, as he claimed on the insurance applications, or was he involved in some huge con game? And what was his relationship with Miranda Pryor, a sexy co-worker for whom Carver feels unrequited lust? In his third novel, National Book Award finalist Dooling (White Man's Grave) tackles the murky world of viatical insurance ("where investors bet on how fast AIDS victims die") with mixed results. The premise is intriguing and the writing stylish, but the characters are mostly caricatures, and after a while the narrative becomes repetitive, tedious, and at times unbelievable. For larger collections.
Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
--A young uber-geek, strung out on computers and recreational drugs.
--The 30-ish insurance fraud investigator Carver, obsessed with an ambiguous sex object, and imitating private dick speech from film noir.
--The ambiguous sex object Miranda, another fraud investigator whose religious fanaticism pops up often and annoyingly.
--An older and grumpy insurance section head who hypocritically reminisces too often about the old days.
--A stereotyped police detective whose skill set embarrasses the inept FBI goons.
--And other minor players recognizable from movies. Or wait, maybe Dooling had a movie script in mind here.
This cast is set in the context of selling insurance policies (viaticals) that sit on the edge of, or jump into, fraud. If you are VERY interested in viaticals, you might like this book and its goofy twists and turns. But you will have to tolerate bizarre relationships, especially between Carver and Miranda. The oddest scene happens toward the end of the book when Carver storms Miranda's apartment and furiously shrieks out a metaphor with Jacob and Esau of Genesis fame. It goes on for pages. So far, so bad...and then...huh? Instead of dialing 911, Miranda suddenly gets all snuggly and Carver gets rewarded for his ranting.
If I had cared about any of the characters, I might have enjoyed this more. I can't wait to avoid the movie version.
Carver Hartnett is a straight arrow insurance fraud investigator who tells the story in first person. Miranda Pryor is the chaste but seductive object of Carver's desire. And Lenny Stillmach is the friend who manages to be a high tech genius despite manic-depression and chronic drug and alcohol abuse. These three friends comprise the team of fraud investigators who are very good at what they do. Each brings different but effective skills to the team.
Lenny's unexpected death under strange circumstances casts suspicion on his friends. These suspicions are compounded by the discovery that he has purchased multiple six figure life insurance policies naming Carver and Miranda, as well as others, as beneficiaries. Seems that Lenny's boss, the local police, and FBI think he has been running a lucrative scam by buying and selling high dollar policies for fun and profit. Carver can't trust anyone, including Mrianda, and he finds himself up to his eyebrows in a local and federal investigation. His life is in danger and it's up to him to find out why as he tries to separate the good guys from the evil doers.
Richard Dooling is an award nominated author because his wordsmithery is unique. His style is modern with the noir voice of past masters of the genre. Bet Your Life is not a simplistic tale. Intelligent fans of the genre will enjoy the experience.
I think that Dooling's efforts to incorporate a relatively large number of characters have backfired... there's no real distinction between most of them, and I didn't find myself giving a damn about any of them.
In the acknowledgments, the author writes:
"I thank (names) - IT cyber wizards one and all - for (...) suggesting ways I could pretend to have more than an amateur's grasp of computer technology."
I think this may be the root of the problem with this book... Dooling's first two novels reflected deep personal experience, and a deep personal understanding of the subject matter at hand.
Unfortunately, this time Dooling is obviously just pretending... he still has only "an amateur's grasp of computer technology", and his efforts to pretend otherwise ruin this as a novel.
And viaticals aren't quite as new or scandalous as the author would have us believe. This novel seems to boil down to: "Man, can you believe there are people out there selling their own life insurance policies?!"
I would like to conclude by suggesting that the editors of this novel don't deserve the author's thanks.
When Lenny, a co-worker of Carver and Miranda who has some risky personal habits, dies under mysterious circumstances, Carver sets to find out what happened. Despite's Dooling's attempts to create witty banter among the friends, I just didn't care enough to know what happened to Lenny who had no apparent traits to justify Carver and Miranda's loyalty to him. In addition, Carver doesn't come off as very bright in many of his actions. It's hard to sympathize with such a character.
Plodding dialogue with occasional religious references also slow the story down. I can't recommend this one.
Most recent customer reviews
While he tries to imbue the insurance and viatical industries with intrigue and give Omaha Nebraska a noir-ish danger, they just...Read more