Jenny and Tricia Carter are sisters, but all they have in common are their parents.
At twenty-seven, Jenny has a deadbeat boyfriend and barely gets by with poorly paid part-time jobs. For Tricia, older by two years and a successful realtor, money comes above everything else.
Jenny has been renting the extra bedroom in Tricia’s Venice, California condo since she got evicted from her low-rent studio a couple of years ago. Tricia never misses an opportunity to criticize her sister for the poor choices she makes. Jenny pretty much deserves it.
One of Jenny’s part-time jobs is caring for the indoor plants of a mega-wealthy hedge fund manager, Todd Granger. When Felicia, his housekeeper, tells Jenny she’s concerned Susan, Todd’s live-in girlfriend has gone missing, Jenny says she’ll look into it.
Jenny has no luck tracing Susan, but Felicia has discovered Todd’s house is bugged and gives her a secure digital card she found. The SD card is from Total Surveillance, a company Jenny has another part-time job with reviewing surveillance tapes.
Jenny does some digging at Total Surveillance and comes up with more tapes from Todd’s house that suggest he’s laundering cartel drug money through his hedge fund as well as using some of it to finance his brother’s anti-immigrant focused campaign for governor.
This has the elements of an interesting novel and might have been in the hands of an author better versed in the craft.
This is Brian Finney’s first work of fiction and its apparent right from the start when he begins the narrative with backstory rather than the inciting incident.
It’s not that the writing is bad; there are no grammatical errors; it’s just painfully amateurish.
The author is infatuated with adverbs and attaches them to almost every bit of dialogue, presumably to make sure the reader understands the delivery. With good writing, the reader knows how the dialogue is delivered because of previous action, characterization and setting.
The story is filled with redundancies, a common mistake of beginners who want to make sure the reader “gets it.” The text is also riddled with redundant modifiers like “shouts angrily”, “shouts back in a temper”, “shoves Miguel roughly,” “lacks firm definition”.
Characters in Money Matters are one dimensional with good and evil delineated almost exclusively by wealth and ethnic origin. Everyone white is at best indifferent and at worst a bigot. If you’re successful, you’re self-centered, materialistic, greedy and just plain nasty—like Tricia. If you’re powerful, you’re corrupt like Todd and his politician brother.
For all the antagonists in Money Matters, the end justifies the means.
On the other hand, if you’re poor or struggling it’s because you’re kind, liberal and caring and in the case of this story, likely an illegal, undocumented Mexican.
With the introduction of every new character, the author gives you a detailed physical description including their wardrobe complete with designer names. This not only stalls the narrative but feels unnatural. Minimal physical description introduced through action allows the reader to fill in the blanks and further invests them in the story.
The plot stretches the suspension of disbelieve in a number of areas. The first is when Felicia, after trying unsuccessfully to contact Susan, visits her apartment.
“I went to her apartment in Palos Verdes, and it was no right. I could see through the window. All the plants were muertas. Plates broken on the kitchen floor.” … “No! No! The landlord told me she pays the rent. Is not right. Something is malo. It smell bad in there.”
Why doesn't Felicia call the 9-1-1 and tell police what she’s seen and what she suspects? She could do it anonymously.
The second instance is when Miguel, an undocumented immigrant, obstructs Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers while they’re making an arrest and subsequently gets arrested himself. Does it make sense that he would intervene knowing how personally at risk he is?
Another is a telephone conversation where Todd arranges to launder cartel money through his hedge fund if the cartel makes a $100,000 donation to his brother’s political campaign. Then, Dan Granger, Todd’s brother and candidate for governor, instructs a campaign worker to open a bank account in a fictitious name and deposit the illegal contribution.
With so much at stake, you’d think they’d take at least a few precautions like not discussing the transaction over the telephone and not instructing an anonymous campaign worker to do something illegal.
The story only feels authentic when the author introduces subplots with secondary characters, Miguel’s detainment and deportation and the scenes with Jenny and Tricia’s parents including the announcement their mother has vascular dementia.
Developing the aforementioned scene could add a much-needed dimension to the characters of Jenny and Tricia and balance to the story as well. If Tricia were to step up and to pay for her mother’s long-term care, it would depict her as something other than avaricious and demonstrate that having a healthy bank account can be used for a worthwhile purpose.
Finney either is not up to this opportunity or misses it altogether. Instead, he has Tricia cut a cheque for a measly thousand dollars and writes the following tepid response for Jenney,
“I had never faced the obvious fact that my parents wouldn’t be around for the rest of my life. They were a fixture in my mind. I feel sort of uprooted.”
Considering the upbeat ending, I wonder if the author is aware of the insidious conflict of interest that has facilitated it.
Jenny has extorted a million-dollar donation from the drug cartel for the Coalition of Immigrant Rights run by her boyfriend, Eduardo. Some of this money will go to pay her salary in a new job he’s created for her, described as “…exposing the false information… to change the treatment of immigrants until we have enough votes to compel the government to change the present laws.”
Ironically, the cartel’s funds come in part from human smuggling which would mean her salary is being paid by the very thing she'll be employed to expose–human suffering and the exploitation of immigrants.
If only I could believe Finney was aware of this, it would make the novel almost worthwhile.
I received this book free from Reedsy Discovery in return for an honest review and a $5 Amazon Gift Card.