Oline Cogdill


A recurring theme in mystery fiction is greed. Follow the money and likely you will find the motive and the villain lurking behind the dollars.

Lately, plain old greed has evolved. Financial thrillers seem to be the mystery category du jour.

Blame it on the economy. Or rather, credit the economy for lending some gripping plots.

On the surface, the economic downturn might not seem to be fodder for a page-turning thriller. But what could create better grounds for crime than no money, a bleak job market and an uncertain future?

The inability to feed your family, the loss of status or just the ability to take care of basic needs drives people to desperate acts.

Dennis Lehane got the ball rolling with his 2010 novel Moonlight Mile, which marked the return of Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro after a 12-year absence.

In Moonlight Mile, Patrick and Angie are now married, the parents of an adorable 4-year-old girl and faced with a mountain of bills. To support his family, Patrick has been working freelance for a security firm, but his actions on some cases have caused irreparable harm.

Lehane's recurring themes of moral ambiguity and the loss of innocence receive a thorough workout in Moonlight Mile as the author looked at what happens when one’s conscience conflicts with financial need.

Lehane wasn't the first to tap into the economic downturn, and the stories keep coming.

Owen Laukkanen mixes the recession and a bleak job market in his excellent debut The Professionals. Here, four out-of-work, newly graduated college friends turn to kidnapping.

The Professionals vividly illustrates contemporary economics while exploring how a sense of entitlement and selfishness can shade people’s logic. Laukkanen's characters still think of themselves as good people, even when things go terribly wrong.

The gang specialize in demanding a low ransom—from $60,000 to $100,000—from wealthy businessmen. The low ransoms keep them off the radar and at those prices, the kidnapping is “an inconvenience. . .not a crime,” they reason.

Laukkanen's The Professionals is one of the best debuts of this year.

Mike Cooper’s Clawback features Silas Cade, a former black ops soldier who now works as a consultant, forcing sleazy investment managers to give back millions to managers who are somewhat less sleazy.

Silas has his own definition of clawback—“a term of art, referring to the mandatory return of compensation paid on a deal that later goes bad. Sometimes the claw is literal.”

Clawback mixes high-octane action with the arcane details of banking and money management for a solid plot.

barclay_theaccidentJames Grippando's Need You Now shows how the plague of Ponzi schemes has affected mobsters. After all, criminals also need a place to park their money and, unlike most Ponzi victims, they tend to be bit more vengeful.

Grippando's character-rich story also offers an astute look at these schemes. Investigators of real Ponzi schemes should take a look at Grippando's thoughtful solutions Need You Now.

Grippando also looked at money woes in his earlier novel Money to Burn.

The recession—and how families cope with it—makes an intriguing and quite timely background for The Accident, Linwood Barclay’s ninth novel released in 2011.

The Accident
is a cautionary tale, showing the angst of those whose self-esteem is wrapped up in money when it disappears and how the strain of money woes can infect an entire community.

It all begins with a neighborhood network of counterfeit handbags, a seemingly mild transgression that begins several characters' slide down a slippery slope.