Saturday, October 20, 2012

GUEST POST: Rosemary McCracken - Money & Murder

Pat Tierney, my central character in Safe Harbor, is a forty-something financial advisor. She emerged, fully grown, from my background as a journalist who specializes in personal finance. Over the years, I’ve interviewed many financial and investment professionals for my articles, and I know the challenges they face. Pat embodies traits of those in the financial services industry I admire most. She cares about her clients. She’s a champion of small investors. She has sleepless nights when stock markets are in a downturn. And she realizes that money can be a strong motive for crime, including murder.

Greed is a powerful incentive for theft and fraud. But some people don’t stop there; they move onto murder. Take Mary Ann Cotton who poisoned a string of people in Victorian England, including three husbands and a lover, after making sure that they’d purchased life insurance. Then she collected on the policies and moved on to her next victim.

More recently, Canada’s black widow, 77-year-old Melissa Weeks, has just been charged with trying to poison her 75-year-old husband shortly after their wedding in late September. Back in 1991, Weeks was convinced of manslaughter and served a jail term for killing her second husband on a deserted road. He was heavily drugged when she ran him over twice with a car. She was also convicted and did jail time for fraud, theft and forgery involving other lonely men with whom she had relationships.

Pat Tierney’s profession gives her an edge as an amateur sleuth. She recognizes the red flags for fraud and financial abuse: the “time-limited offers” that consumers need to act upon immediately without getting second opinions; clients who ask to be cashed out of investments but won’t give a reason why; clients who make large withdrawals from their bank accounts; and elderly people whose children or caregivers have isolated them from their friends and community.

The fact that a financial advisor has to know her clients is probably the greatest ace Pat holds. It means that she will know if a client has health concerns. She will be one the first in the know if a client is diagnosed with a terminal illness. And getting back to money and greed, she’ll also know how much money a client has – or doesn’t have. And who he is leaving it to in his will.

There is one type of crime that Pat is particularly well positioned to spot – white collar crime committed by her peers. Because the financial services industry revolves around money, it provides opportunities for those who are clever and greedy enough to challenge the system. Not only crimes of fraud and embezzlement, but also laundering the proceeds of these crimes. There will always be some bad apples in circulation, and committed professionals like Pat want to see tougher penalties to deter them. They want the system to protect their clients, their firms and themselves from liability.

In Safe Harbor, a red flag goes up when a rookie advisor is immediately given a large investment account to manage. When Pat looks more closely at that account, she sees that a sizeable part of its assets are in slowpoke stocks. Things just don’t add up. And when thing don’t add up for a financial professional, something is very wrong.

* * *

Rosemary McCracken is a freelance journalist and fiction writer who lives in Toronto, Canada. Her first mystery novel, Safe Harbor, was shortlisted for Britain’s Debut Dagger in 2010. It opens when a frightened woman barges into financial advisor Pat Tierney’s office with a shocking request: “Look after my boy; he’s your late husband’s son.” The next day the woman is murdered and police say her seven-year-old child may be the killer’s next target.

Safe Harbor was published by Imajin Books this spring, and is available as an ebook and a paperback on Amazon.com; also as a paperback on Amazon.ca and Barnes & Noble. Visit Rosemary on her website and her blog.

Safe Harbor is free today and tomorrow at http://amzn.to/wAQpJN

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