The Banker’s Wife made me laugh out loud and won me over early with a snarky description of the book the banker’s wife was reading, the kind of book she had read many times before “with girl in the title and an unreliable narrator.” Of course, if you lay down that kind of snark, you have to deliver something completely different, so I was excited to see how author Cristina Alger lived up to the challenge.

The story opens with two people disappearing in a plane crash in the Alps. One of them is a banker, Matthew Werner. The other is a client Fatima Amir, rumored to be related to Bashir Assad. His wife, Annabel, is the title character and of the three women who are the primary agents of the plot, Annabel really does the least. There is also Marina, the journalist on vacation in Paris with her fiancé Grant, the son of a man preparing to run for the presidency. Then, the character who is given the least textual space, but is really the heart of it all, Zoe, Matthew’s assistant.

Annabel is heartbroken but soon comes to suspect the investigation into her husband’s murder is a coverup thanks to her sharp attention to detail. She feels surrounded by enemies and suspects and she is. Marina is contacted by her mentor and asked to pick up something and bring it back to him when she returns to the states, information too dangerous to trust to electronic transmission. Her investigative instincts kick into gear when her mentor is murdered. Zoe is already aware of the danger and does her best to avoid it by giving Annabel Matthew’s laptop and disappear, but how well can she hid from an international conspiracy of illicit bankers and their criminal clients?

This book features women, not girls, and they are reliable, so Alger delivered on her challenge to avoid those now overdone tropes. This story is clearly inspired by The Panama Papers including the cooperation of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that published all the documents and the many reporters who wrote stories from the massive data trove. Fact is more tragic than fiction, though, as most of the guilty got away with it in the real world and publication did not keep Panama Papers journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia from being murdered.

I felt very little peril in the story. The bad guys seemed curiously reluctant to snip off loose ends. Annabel takes a few proactive steps, but most of her strategy is pretending she is clueless. Marina is more proactive, but when she confronts suspects, they seem to think they win her over which is just silly on their part. Zoe is in real peril and uses a particularly clever ploy to rescue herself on one occasion. It all comes together a bit more neatly than I suspect is possible. After all, even Panama’s government suspended the investigation into the Panama Papers and people named were mostly embarrassed rather than prosecuted. It seems, unlike the fictional governments, leaking evidence of fraudulent bank transactions result in very little criminal accountability.

The Banker’s Wife felt overly complicated with multiple fronts. Frankly the banker and his wife could be absent and it’s possible the suspense would be more taut and compelling with just Marina and Zoe, but the CEO’s fiancée and the banker’s assistant just aren’t great titles. Anyway, it’s still an interesting story.

The Banker’s Wife will be released on July 3rd, just in time for vacation reading. I received an ARC from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.

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