📚 Finished reading The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow.

This is the sequel to a book I read last year Red Team Blues. Or perhaps in part a prequal insomuch as we learn more about the life of Martin Hench, forensic accountant extraordinaire, before the crypto-infused adventures detailed in the earlier book.

This time he’s up against a different variety of business-related con artists. He inadvertently gets exposed to a fairly pernicious but fixable scam whilst trying to have a good time on a rich-person’s vacation - no surprise there - the impact of which comes back to haunt him years later. Along the way we encounter a bunch of the scams which we have all, in real life, suffered from over the past few decades.

As ever with Doctorow’s work, it’s highly influenced by his point of view on various political issues. Readers of his excellent blog, Pluralistic, will find a lot familiar here. I’m sure it’s meant at least somewhat as a tool to educate people outside of his blog readership of some of the issues we see with modern-day technology, high finance, out of control capitalism, weird tech-bro billionaires, all that good / terrifying stuff. You will for instance become very familiar with the dynamics of pyramid schemes. But in a good and gripping way.

Whilst fiction, I’m certain much of what is described is very closely based on reality actually happened. Certainly the town of Avalon on the island of Catalina is real, as is its association with Wrigley of chewing gum fame. The Prison Industrial Complex is a real thing in California and beyond. The capitalists insatiable drove to profit from prisoners is real.

Presiding as a monopoly over prison phone calls has made big business lots of private money for years. The “free” tablets given to prisoners are real, and equally problematic, even down to the charges made to prisoners to purchase a “stamp” when they send an email - although there does appear to be an in-jail jailbreaking movement.

And even though for-profit prisons (only) in California were supposedly phased out around 2020 - years after the events of the book - private prison firms have still found ways to make big money by exploiting folk for whom in reality we have a duty of care for, not a duty to profit from at any cost.

The title “Bezzle” comes from a contraction of “embezzlement” and is used here as in John Kenneth Galbraith’s conception of the term as referring to:

The magic interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the victim does not yet understand that he has lost it.

You can hear an excerpt of the audio book version on Doctorow’s blog for free.

Book cover for The Bezzle