By Sarah Ellen Rindsberg
Gift giving isn’t always easy. Instead of lamenting the fact that Uncle Iggy has everything, why not rejoice in the knowledge that there is a universal present which is sure to please? Books! This season, as always, there are many standouts. The following are noteworthy not only as great reads, but because each is recounted by one of your neighbors and includes a reference–oblique or otherwise–to the very place we call home.
Ben Lieberman’s “The Carnage Account”
When Chappaqua resident Ben Lieberman worked on Wall Street, his morning routine was a bit unusual for the profession. Sure, he would head to the city very early in the morning. However, his early start wasn’t driven by his firm’s buy and sell list. Although that was certainly part of his objective for the day, his first stop was actually the coffee shop across the street from the office where he would write for an hour and a half before going into the office at 7:30. His investment in diligent determination led to the release of his first book, Odd Jobs, in 2010.
The inspiration for The Carnage Account, his latest crime thriller, came during a meeting at Lehman Brothers. The discussion centered on a new product: life settlements. These instruments result from the purchase of life insurance policies (held by third parties) in which the buyer continues to pay the premiums and collects at death. The seller is banking on receiving an amount greater than the cash surrender value of the policy.
Lieberman began asking questions: “Is it regulated? Is it confidential?” The intrigue led to a subsequent thought: “Abuse on Wall Street is a recurring problem…what will happen when the inevitable exploitation occurs from the moral hazard of a product wagering on human expiration?” The Carnage Account, published this past October, is the result of his musing.
The story centers on hedge fund manager Rory Cage, a particularly devious protagonist, who sets out to adapt life settlements to his own nefarious end. “He has the desire to expedite the process,” Lieberman hints.
In the first chapter, appropriately titled Triathlon Terror, the plot thickens right away: “There was the usual gridlock at the turn, and Rory used the opportunity to take a deep breath, go underwater, and hum the theme song to Jaws.” The triathlon, described in vivid detail, is based on Lieberman’s first-hand experience. To sate curiosity, pick up a copy of The Carnage Account.
Jeff Altabef’s “Shatter Point”
Storytelling has always been an integral part of Jeff Altabef’s life. Bedtime stories for his children spawned not only his own avocation as a writer, but that of one of his daughters as well. A voracious reader of three genres – young adult, thrillers and historical fiction–Altebef turned to storytelling full-time after living the life of an investment banker.
When his first book, the political thriller Fourteenth Colony, was released, readers clamored for more. “That was the impetus for doing Shatter Point,” Altabef says. Shatter Point, his new psychological thriller, is a stand-alone sequel to Fourteenth Colony.
Altabef’s story lines are character-driven. After creating a storyboard he takes his cues from the characters he has created. “It often goes in directions that I never would have imagined,” he relates. His story frequently takes “unpredictable” turns based on where the characters take it, and the surprises keep the action moving rapidly.
To further create suspense, Altabef employs a time-tested technique: “It’s making sure you end the chapter at the place where the reader says I have to see what happens next.” His techniques are key to sustaining readers’ interest and his work embodies the definition of a compelling read.
From Shatter Point: “Without extraordinary vines, truly superior wine cannot flourish. The same is true with humans. Only those with the proper genetic code can be truly exceptional.” These words are uttered during a supposed picnic in the park by Cooper, a man who has long tormented Maggie, the woman he has kidnapped. When Maggie hears these words, her fear is palpable. She senses her aggressor’s intention and attempts to break free of his hold but hears, “Struggling won’t help you. The restraints are electrified. If you struggle against them you will only feel pain.” Maggie’s only hope at this point is rescue. Her devoted sons Tom and Jack set out determined to find and free their mother.
For his next work, Altabef created a soon to be 16-year-old female protagonist. To insure the veracity of the character’s voice, he enlisted a co-writer the same age as his protagonist, his daughter Erynn. Together, they are crafting a Native American-themed trilogy of young adult novels. Wind Catcher (the first volume) will be published in March of 2015. On collaborating with his youngest, this Chappaqua dad says, “Working with Erynn is awesome!”
Sarah Ellen Rindsberg, the quintessential bibliophile, hopes you have as much fun giving and reading these books as she did writing this piece.