Book review: The Ponzi Man

LIKE the conclusion of the latest court case involving a disgraced former banker, by the end of Declan Lynch’s fourth novel, The Ponzi Man, you’ll be left asking, is that it?

Declan Lynch

Hachette, €17.99

Lynch, a journalist with the Sunday Independent, has created an anti-hero in John Devlin who, with a few tweaks, the reader could imagine as having helped give life to the Celtic Tiger and is now belligerent that, as it crumbles all around him while he sips his third pint of Guinness, the finger of blame is being pointed at him. 

As it is, Devlin actually put on bets for the fat cats who, he says with hindsight, “were being exceptionally greedy”.

And life was good for a while. He made half a million in one weekend, and had properties in London, Manhattan, and the south of France.

 He and his wife, Christina, sneered at the thought of buying clothes that cost less than €300. Devlin, in short, is the “only man around here who made a name for himself”.

However, that was then, and now, Devlin, though still wearing those expensive threads because he enjoys the tease, the idea that people think he still has a few million stashed away, has little more than a caravan, a laptop, and a bit of money in his online betting account. 

He’s been caught for millions, has lost his wife of five years, is not allowed within 8km of the casino, and is facing a court date in a fortnight.

The majority of the novel takes place over one alcohol-laden weekend, as Devlin reminisces about how he got to this point “at the end of the world”.

His young solicitor, James Hamilton, is trying to make Devlin show contrition, remorse, sorrow — anything he can offer to the judge.

“I can write the confession. I can go to Gamblers Anonymous. I just don’t want to,” says John early on Saturday, during a meeting with Hamilton. 

He’s already won €140 on the tennis — after his solicitor leaves, he wins another €90 on the racing in Newbury.

Hamilton may also have a drinking problem, which is indulged while acting as Devlin’s therapist, though it might be because his father, Ed, a former acquaintance of Devlin, is back around. 

Ed is also an alcoholic, the only unrepentant addict among the slim cast of characters. 

(The closest we get to a female character is Devlin’s ‘what if’ reminiscing of a girl he failed to make a move on when he was a teenager.)

Lynch is more adept at explaining the art/ addiction of gambling than he is at crafting a female character. 

During a gin binge in his caravan with Ed, Devlin tells us: “I feel like explaining to him the nature of the gambler in these situations, how we regard women essentially as distractions from our sacred mission, that we can tolerate them as a kind of decoration but we don’t really want to know them.”

Even more succinctly, he philosophises: “It is only a disease if you lose.” 

The vain Devlin at times feels suicidal — though that might just be the hangover — but rarely feels guilt. 

“It was playing god that got me here, making my money by predicting the future, arrogant enough to try to ordain my own fate.”

He’s condemned himself to getting seven years from the judge, though Hamilton says it might be three, and, despite all this talk taking place on one weekend, it now might just be a suspended sentence as gambling addiction has recently been recognised as a disease.

Ed, meanwhile, has donated €2,000 to Devlin’s betting account, thinking that if he can work his old magic he can offer the winnings to his victims.

As Devlin wrestles with his consciousness, and the reader deals with a thin plot, it all feels a little too predictable. Though at times compelling, the predictable Ponzi Man peters out.


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