Business Bookshelf

A trio of thrillers with plots the profession can relate to.
BY STANLEY PERSON

Duped By Derivatives:
A Manhattan Murder Mystery
By Gail Farrelly
285 pages; paperback; $6.99
Chicago Spectrum Press, Chicago

Start with Reilly Investment Co., a New York firm that’s in trouble because of derivatives trading gone bad. Add some pranksters with grudges who play dirty tricks, then mix in a few offbeat characters. Shake them up with the cold-blooded murder of the firm’s owner and you have this colorful genre narrative.

Ex-Boston policeman-turned-private-eye Detective Roy Clarkson and his tough secretary Katie Maquire team with finance professor Lisa King, a one-year “visiting scholar” at Reilly, to solve the mystery. The late Mr. Reilly had offended on several fronts: His poor derivatives deals caused his clients major investment losses, and he treated employees and his only son badly. These actions form the basis of several possible motives for the murder.

New York City is the setting, and the author takes the reader to well-known sites such as the Wall Street financial district and Rockefeller Center while commenting on both the city’s unique virtues and its foibles. Most of the action takes place in and around the Reilly office, where mysterious pranksters have smeared everything with catsup, put glue on chairs, brewed coffee that bubbles and ordered large amounts of unwanted food. But such annoying but harmless tricks pale in comparison with the discovery of the body of George Reilly.

King, Clarkson and Maquire spring into action. (It is not their first time working together; they teamed up in an earlier book, Beaned in Boston. ) Each independently pursues a different trail to identify the culprits and pick up clues until the solution is at hand.

Along the way, many interesting characters with possible motives for the pranks or the killing come to life. These include a shoeshine lady who reads people by the condition of their footwear, a young woman who quits Reilly mysteriously, a long-time executive who’s fired from the firm and finds his life turned upside down, an extremely disgruntled client, a very unhappy son who has been wronged by his father, and the late Mr. Reilly’s personal secretary. Farrelly also introduces a charming but tough New York City detective as the secretary’s boyfriend.

Farrelly, a CPA who has written widely on technical issues and co-authored a book on corporate reputations, brings her experience as a finance professor and visiting scholar at an investment firm to her second mystery novel. She admits she writes fiction as a release from the pressures of her day job. In Duped , Professor Farrelly leaves the technical issues in the classroom. This is simple, low-key writing, and the only finance lesson is when King and Clarkson discuss derivatives.

Farrelly has developed a successful formula—continuity of characters, an interesting supporting cast and a tongue-in-cheek approach. Despite some predictability and a plot shortcut or two in the form of coincidental occurrences, it is a pleasant, fast-moving read.

The Big R: An Internal Auditing Action Adventure
By D. Larry Crumbley, Douglas E. Ziegenfuss and John J. O’Shaunessey
266 pages; paperback; $25
Carolina Academic Press, Durham, North Carolina

A while back some enterprising professors and publishers tried a new concept in education tools; they invented the “teaching novel”—a technical text with a fictional story line. This book is an outstanding example of this genre, and its plot is so interesting the technical material (which is ample) doesn’t detract in any way from the adventure.

“R” stands for risk—an important factor for all businesses—which runs the gamut from insurance to audit to operational risks. The book’s story line unfolds in the context of teaching what’s needed to understand risk and protect an organization from too much exposure, and the setting is America’s beloved national pastime.

Major league baseball is at risk because of a serial killer. The murderer—who commits crimes on important dates in baseball history—is attempting to extort payoffs from team owners to stop the killings. Baseball’s perfect game—a phenomenon that’s been accomplished fewer than 20 times in history—is the conceptual backbone of the novel. Those not familiar with the perfect game learn that it’s one in which a pitcher faces 27 batters over 9 innings (three per inning, the minimum) and retires them all without a walk, a hit or an error. The killer leaves clue-ridden bodies in the ballparks of several cities. The authors give detailed accounts of some perfect games and the ballplayers involved, drawing on actual newspaper stories and anecdotes for background.

At first, the police in the cities where the murders have been committed don’t connect them to one killer. However, because the events have taken place in or near stadiums, they turn to baseball experts for help. The officers find their way to Fleet Walker, internal auditor of the New York Yankees and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Walker discovers the link: The murders have occurred on the anniversaries of perfect games. Walker, FBI agent William Douglass, forensic accountant Fred Sherman and a cast of dedicated law enforcement officials methodically follow clues to catch the elusive killer.

The chase is gripping as the characters try to outsmart the murderer, who uses disguises to slip out of their grasp again and again. Perhaps most satisfying is that the reader is privy to all the elements leading to the resolution of the case—there is nothing hidden or unsaid. Capturing the killer is portrayed as a logical and straightforward process. The plot unfolds in a way that parallels the internal auditing methodology and its need for adherence to structure.

The three CPA-professor authors impart internal auditing technical information along with the text on risk, mixing structural devices such as character dialogue, quasi-lectures, chapter introductions and an index. There’s fascinating baseball history as well as internal auditing pointers. D. Larry Crumbley has written 12 prior novels under his own name and as Iris Weil Collect.

The Audit
By Edward J. McMillan
384 pages; paperback; $15.95
Harwood Publishing, Churchton, Maryland

Fraud in the world of not-for-profit organizations is not new, and every once in a while, a news story surfaces about illegal activities in or by an NPO. In his first novel, the author brings his expertise in the field of NPOs to a suspenseful plot with plenty of twists and turns. All the right ingredients of a good mystery are here—heroes, villains, a psychopathic killer, a transatlantic chase, electronic fraud, romance, international price-fixing and embezzlement.

Patrick McQuire, the hero of the story, returns to his Baltimore home after serving in the U.S. Marines. He has a strong desire to complete college, get an accounting degree and become a CPA. He gets a job at a firm where his best friend—a CPA whose father is one of the senior partners—works. The firm specializes in auditing NPOs. Once in the organization, McQuire in quick order finishes college, passes the CPA exam, is put on a fast track at work and discovers a fraud on one of his first assignments. (At this point, if you’ve ever read John Grisham’s The Firm, you may be wondering what Pat is being set up for … but read on.)

McQuire is on the audit team of the National Tobacco Federation (NTF), the firm’s biggest client where all is not well. Its leaders are running a massive price-fixing scheme and channeling large sums of money illegally, unbeknownst to the auditors. Someone balancing the books is helping them. Jim Hampton, the president of NTF, quickly sizes up McQuire as a threat because of his no-nonsense military bearing and his auditing skills. Hampton’s thug soon tries to violently warn off McQuire.

Meanwhile, Hampton decides it’s time to get out of the business with a multimillion dollar “bonus.” He tells his accomplices of his plan and threatens to expose them if they try to stop him. Using fraudulent papers, he sets up an elaborate disappearing scenario and goes on the run with his wife. But when one of the CPA firm’s partners is murdered, his scorned lover Rita Davies—the assistant to the NFT president—worries about her safety and asks for help. McQuire takes charge, and they create a plan to get incriminating tapes of the price-fixing meetings and retrieve the bonus. The transatlantic chase, mayhem, electronic fraud and romance between McQuire and Davies add up to exciting reading. The plot resolutions are clever and will keep you guessing—probably incorrectly—which, in a mystery, is a good thing.

Stanley Person, CPA, of New York–based Person and Co. believes in reading for education and relaxation. His e-mail address is pandacpa@aol.com .

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