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UNDERMONEY, a dystopian political thriller, isn’t always an easy read, but ultimately it’s compelling. It asks --- and only obliquely answers --- the question of whether or not idealistic ends always justify the dark means.

Under the direction and protection of Army General Tommy Taylor, a group of military operatives steals more than $2 billion, intended for bribes in Syria, to help advance the career of Nebraska's junior senator, Ben Corn, himself an Army vet who is destined to become the next President of the United States. This group is committed to bringing the U.S. back onto the global stage and reversing what it sees as years of short-term thinking about everything from allies to infrastructure. Included in this select enclave are, besides Taylor and Corn, the impossibly beautiful and talented CIA agent Greta Webb and her onetime lover, Don Carter, a former member of Delta Force who is now running his own security company.

"[Newman] has startling insights into how finance and politics intertwine that will force the lay reader to rethink his or her worldview..."

They orchestrate the heist in the presence of Fyodor Volk, head of the Parsifal Group --- a Blackwater-like paramilitary organization that is a favorite of Vladimir Putin (here referred to as VVP). Parsifal had contracted to provide backup security for the operation, and when Volk figures out what is being stolen, and why, he initiates a relationship with Webb. Ultimately, he helps Webb figure out how to launder the $2 billion --- but, of course, he wants his cut. When the group settles on using a hedge fund, Industrial Strategies, and its founder, Elias Vicker, it’s no surprise that Volk and his middleman, Lorenzo Gonzaga, get involved. They manipulate events around the world that result in huge gains for the fund, and for a time all parties seem content with the sometimes horrifying consequences.

As author Jay Newman analyzes American policy failures in relation to Russia and China, he toys tantalizingly and sometimes frustratingly with the idea that an alliance with the former may be necessary to combat the latter. He has startling insights into how finance and politics intertwine that will force the lay reader to rethink his or her worldview, even as it bogs down the narrative. Meanwhile, high-end brand names --- from Armani to Heckler & Koch arms and Oberwerk binoculars --- and exotic locales (St. Barts, Cannes) are continually touted, as though Newman wants to both titillate and disparage the greed of it all. And speaking of which, the sex scenes are over-the-top, ­­bizarre and geared to, one assumes, indiscriminate male readers.

The takeaway from this everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink, but still important, novel is that even a seemingly pure and honest candidate doesn’t want to risk losing for lack of money. The good that will come from victory justifies the source of the money, but alas, it’s still undermoney.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on January 28, 2022

by Jay Newman