Octopus is a real-life thriller that tells the inside story of an audacious hedge fund fraud and the wild search, by a colorful cast of rogues and schemers, for a “secret market” beneath the financial market we all know.
Sam Israel was a man who seemed to have it all – until the hedge fund he ran, Bayou, imploded and he became the target of a nationwide manhunt. Born into one of America’s most illustrious trading families, Israel was determined to strike out on his own. So after apprenticing with one of the greatest hedge fund traders of the 1980’s, Sam founded his own fund and promised his investors guaranteed profits. With the proprietary computer program he’d created, he claimed to be able to predict the future.
But his future was already beginning to unravel.
After suffering devastating losses and fabricating fake returns, Israel knew it was only a matter of time before his real performance would be discovered, so when a former black-ops intelligence operative told him about a “secret market” run by the Fed, Israel bet his last $150 million on a chance to make billions. Thus began his year-long adventure in “the Upperworld” — a society populated by clandestine bankers, shady European nobility, and spooks issuing cryptic warnings about a mysterious cabal known as the Octopus.
Whether the “secret market” was real or a con, Israel was all in – and as the pressures mounted and increasingly sinister violence crept into his life, he struggled to break free of the Octopus’ tentacles.
About Guy Lawson
GUY LAWSON has traveled the world reporting on war, crime, politics, and sports. His work has appeared in many national publications, including the New York Times, Harper’s, GQ, and Rolling Stone, and he previously coauthored The Brotherhoods. He and his family make their home in upstate New York.
At one time, Israel could do no wrong. He had the magic touch on Wall Street, seemingly able to turn anything he touched into gold. Never mind that his financial prowess as a trader stemmed from a steady font of insider trading information provided by some of the most conniving players in the stock market. When Israel’s fraud was discovered and his fund inevitably collapsed, he fell prey to even more pernicious con men than himself. Blinded by the promise of billions of dollars and an escape hatch from his sinking firm, Israel decided to roll the dice and bet on the wild schemes of Robert Booth Nichols, an eccentric figure claiming to be an ex-CIA asset. Nichols promised Israel entrance into the dangerous world of international high finance known as the “Shadow Market,” a secretive world where the strapped financier could recoup his losses and even amass a new fortune. However, the Shadow Market didn’t really exist. Or did it? The line between fact and fantasy becomes elusive in the second half of this mind-bending yarn, but Lawson (co-author: Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia, 2006) somehow manages to make sense of it all. He provides a penetratingly comprehensive profile of a crooked trader run amok, and he nimbly traverses the labyrinthine depths of a worldwide banking con that managed to involve looted Federal Reserve notes and the JFK assassination. The author is sympathetic to Israel—at least he, unlike Bernie Madoff, tried to pay back those he swindled—but he doesn’t sugarcoat his crimes. – Kirkus Reviews
A Trader Who Swerved, and Crashed
The New York Times Book Review – June 30, 2012 (Excerpt)
THE first third of “Octopus,” Guy Lawson’s new book on the 2005 collapse of the Bayou Group hedge fund, is what you might expect: an engrossing tale of the rise of Samuel Israel III, a cocaine-snorting crook who started his firm in the basement of his Westchester County home. If the rest were simply the story of Mr. Israel’s inevitable fall, it would still be a darn good read.
But on Page 139, “Octopus” — to be published next week by Crown — takes a startling 90-degree turn into Crazy Town. By this point, in 2004, Mr. Israel, a trader whose main talent involved front-running the stock picks of far smarter men, has secretly run Bayou into a $117 million hole. He needs a fast hundred million or two to stave off collapse.
It is then, during a trip to London, that a mysterious stranger takes Mr. Israel, and the reader, on a bizarre journey down a multibillion-dollar rabbit hole. What follows is surely one of the oddest Wall Street tales I’ve read in 30 years, and it’s what transforms “Octopus” from a good book into a special one.
Which came as a surprise, at least to me. Mr. Lawson is not a financial writer, and his last book, “The Brotherhoods,” co-written with William Oldham, the story of two New York cops who moonlighted for the Mafia, was almost too dense to read.
Nor did Bayou’s story seem all that spectacular. It was just another neo-Ponzi scheme that wasn’t as big as Bernie Madoff’s. The only thing I remembered was Mr. Israel’s botched attempt to fake his own suicide by jumping off a bridge in upstate New York. But Mr. Lawson found gold, by securing Mr. Israel’s cooperation in a series of prison interviews in which he unspooled his story — little of which, it appears, ever made it into the press. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS
A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith.
- 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
The Bleeding Hills is available at Amazon.Com, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, and any other good bookstore.