Author Srinath Adiga keeps his grim stories pushing relentlessly forward, and there is a fascination in the details and the larger ideas that makes the dystopic world of each main character truthful and engaging. Indeed, the story's narrative unfolds over the last 18 years, and it is not coincidental that tragic global events of those two decades act as touchstones: the World Trade Center attacks, the stock market collapse, growing civil unrest, and even the rise of Fascism. The author has much to say about these turbulent times and where we are going as humans, and he uses his central premise – those in power cynically taking advantage of those without, fomenting division and false hope along the way – to create a very believable chain of cause and effect.
I also appreciated reading a story whose central characters were genuinely cross-cultural (read: not American), with settings in Hong Kong, Mumbai, and Amsterdam. Here, too, Adiga crafts his specifics to make the neighborhoods and supporting players feel truthful. The challenge is that so many of the characters are not likeable by design, which makes for a sometimes alienating effect. But this is a necessity based on the cautionary parable being told; people are not trustworthy and systems (and sometimes, it seems, life itself) are built to penalize the innocent and enrich the guilty. The lesson may be unpalatable, but that doesn't make it less true or less important to face.
Note that there is a fine streak of dark humor running through Dead Money, and even better, the reader is shown pockets of humanity to contrast against the cynicism and avarice that fuels so many of the characters within these pages. It's enough to make us want to stand with Theo and reject the most damaging and corrupt ideologies by those in financial and political power. But, as Theo suspects, it seems that these systems are increasingly impossible to fight once they are established.
I received an advance copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Dead Money, from Central Avenue Publishing, will be available in the United States in January 2021.