The Bottom Line: A near-perfect, highly quotable revenge thriller for the AI-powered era.
Gregory Portent has no regrets about running one of the greatest international Ponzi schemes in history. “I’ve been committing these crimes for the right reasons,” he declares. As God’s Ponzi opens, Gregory is on the run from authorities and fiercely determined to ensure that his enemies get exactly what they deserve. If only he can get the right guidance and advice from his AI-powered partner, JLL.
Told from Gregory’s point of view, author Robert Buschel deftly explores the seeds of a world class schemer through reflections on his childhood. We learn early that Gregory’s own father was the victim of a friend’s scam that cost him his entire life’s savings. The journey from son of a victim to predator is heartfelt, strewn with complex relationships, and most important of all, believable. It’s peppered with romance, including high school sweetheart Chana, and even a strategic marriage to Taylor, his “perfect Ponzi partner.” But by far the most suspenseful and tense is that of his friend and colleague, Joseph. Perhaps only HBO’s Westworld has so thoroughly and convincingly explored the emotions involved in the theoretical transition of human existence into an artificial intelligence life form.
Buschel, an attorney and author of the excellent novel By Silent Majority, has included plenty of suspense for legal thriller fans as well. Amidst a thorough grad-level course on various types of ponzi schemes, he explores legal firm partnerships as well as the role of the law in society in general (“lawyers aren’t heroes”). Through Gregory’s nefarious activities, he also delves into the surprising power of banks, sufficiently illuminating both how dangerous and “magical” they are. Buschel excels at delivering keen insights about history, sociology and the law within the context of a highly suspenseful plot.
At its core, God’s Ponzi is a revenge thriller that employs everything from flashbacks to emails and footnotes to create a uniquely engrossing experience. Is Gregory hopelessly damaged, and does he rationalize the pain he inflicts with his crimes? Absolutely, and readers will spend all day underlining the book’s numerous quotable passages. But given Gregory’s well-drawn history, most readers will root for him. Well played.