News

July 29, 2007

Some Light Reading

Forbes editor Larry Light ’71 writes mysteries when he’s not uncovering them in journalism

By Barbara Mulligan and Dave Block ’93

By day, Larry Light ’71 oversees reporters covering the stock market as Wall Street editor for Forbes magazine. By night — and on weekends and holidays and in whatever spare time he can conjure — he weaves that world of big money and competitive journalism with the themes of classic literature and music as author Lawrence Light.

The result is a series of mystery thriller novels published by Dorchester Publishing’s Leisure Books that feature thirty-something newspaper reporter/sleuth Karen Glick.

In his first Karen Glick novel, Too Rich to Live, Light drew upon themes from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo to spin a tale of revenge among associates at a private equity firm.

In the series’ second novel, Fear and Greed, Light turns to 19th-century composer Richard Wagner’s operatic trilogy, “Ring of the Nibelung,” based on a set of Germanic folk tales featuring, among other things, three beautiful Rhine maidens, a nasty dwarf, and a gold ring.

His 21st-century take on the tale features three sisters, Ginny, Linda, and Flo Reiner, whose names are based on those of Wagner’s maidens—Wellgunde, Woglinde, and Flosshilde.

“The conceit here is what would happen if someone invented a computer program that could predict the stock market,” Light says, explaining that the sisters, math professor Ginny, stockbroker Linda, and computer geek Flo, do just that, housing the lone copy of their top-secret program on a laptop computer embossed with a gold ring and reaping incredible profits for their company, aptly named Goldring.

Writing mysteries is a sideline to a highly successful journalism career for Light, who was a member of the team that earned the National Magazine Award for Business Week in 1992. In his work for the magazine, he broke stories in the early 1990s that Donald Trump was in financial straits. Light uncovered the fact that financier Saul Steinberg and his family were milking their insurance holding company, Reliance, at the expense of shareholders; Steinberg later was dumped by the company. He discovered and reported that publishing company Ziff Davis was in financial trouble and had papered it over in its reports.

Whether practiced in the real world or in a Karen Glick novel, journalism often involves getting a tip and then tracking down the truth — never an easy process, says Light.

“For the Trump story, I heard that he was not as well off as he claimed: the commercial real estate market was going south and he had taken on too much debt,” he says. “I badgered people in the financial community with access to his finances until I could piece together what his balance sheet looked like. It was not a pretty picture. Donald, to his credit, has since come back big-time, but back then he was in real trouble.”

At Forbes, Light oversees reporters who have done investigative pieces uncovering many Wall Street abuses, in particular mutual fund shenanigans, as well as other articles providing valuable insight to investors.

“My real estate reporter recently did a [hard-hitting] story about how condo-hotels — where you as an investor buy a room in a resort hotel and share the proceeds with the hotel when the room is rented out — are a bad idea. High fees, no guaranteed occupancy, and too many of these things are being built, so there will be a glut,” he says.

Light also has been a reporter for Newsday and Congressional Quarterly. He won the AP Newswriting Award, the Silurians Prize given by the Silurian Society of veteran New York journalists, and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service, awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists.

The greatest satisfaction in his career is “writing or editing stories that make a difference — that alert investors when there is a problem they don’t know about,” says Light. “With Reliance, for instance, investors were trusting Steinberg to bring them greater prosperity, when in fact he was using it as his personal piggy bank.”

Light cut his journalism teeth as editor-in-chief of The Lafayette during what he recalls was “a time of great turmoil in the country and on campus.” The late James P. Lusardi ’55, Francis A. March Professor of English, imbued in him “a love of fine language and the classics” and served as his mentor at The Lafayette.

“Jim was a constant goad, always wanting us to be hard-hitting, to challenge the establishment on campus and beyond,” says Light. “Now to Jim, that meant a quite liberal take on things. I at the time was hardly a right-winger, but I wasn’t as far to the left as he was. This made for interesting Socratic dialogues, to say the least. He never understood, for instance, how I could be in ROTC and a fraternity (Sigma Nu).

“With Jim, you always had to be on your toes intellectually. You learned with him never to accept the easy answer, never to take an issue at face value. That is an approach any good journalist should take.”

It’s the approach that Karen Glick takes in Fear and Greed. The intrigue begins in the first chapter, when Flo is murdered by an intruder who steals the laptop. Soon the remaining sisters turn to Glick to help find their sister’s killer—and the magic laptop.

As she did in Too Rich to Live, Karen takes on the case with enthusiasm tempered by frequent irritation with the beautiful, self-absorbed Linda, who wants to control everything.

“What Karen wants is the truth,” Light says. “She delves down, she wants to know this truth, but of course there are unforeseen consequences. When things come to light, it doesn’t always mean paradise has arrived.”

For Light, too, paradise hasn’t quite arrived, but he’s pretty happy with his current status as editor and mystery novelist. He’s working on a third Glick novel and wrote a story published in June in the Akashic Books anthology Wall Street Noir. In April, Oceanview Publishing released Lady Killer, which he and his wife, Meredith Anthony, wrote a decade ago. It’s received praise from the magazines BookPage and Mystery Scene and the Bookpleasures and Fresh Fiction web sites.

Light, who, with Anthony, Alison Power, and Richard Cagan, co-wrote the tongue-in-cheek 101 Reasons Why We’re Doomed in 1994, prefers mysteries.

“I’ve loved mysteries all my life,” he says, explaining that he is especially fond of Agatha Christie novels and Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series.

For the Glick mysteries, Light chose a woman as his protagonist because he wanted someone who had to overcome a series of obstacles.

“I wanted an underdog,” he says. “Karen wants to be an investigative reporter, which is a man’s field. Everyone says to her, ‘you’re a nice girl,’ but she knows she’s tough enough.”

Light also wanted his character to be quirky, with a quirky family to match. Karen’s father, who’s “deep into middle age,” is a perennial grad student, her mom is a do-good social worker, and her grandmother is a Communist-turned-Republican.

As for his plots, Light says, “I’m making fun of my own profession and I’m making fun of the rich.”

He’s also getting the chance to lay bare the fantasies he had fostered in his years as a reporter and editor.

“I’ve covered Wall Street, I’ve covered cops, I’ve covered politics,” he says. “In fiction, I can go one better.”

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