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Bet Your Life

Bet Your Life
Author: Richard Dooling
ISBN 13: 9780060505400
ISBN 10: 60505400
Edition: Reprint
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: 2003-10-14
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
List Price: $15.99

A terminally ill man sells his life insurance policy for cheap to an investor who will collect the full amount when the sick man dies.But is the sick man really sick? Does he even exist? In the age of AIDS and no-holds-barred capitalism, the business of betting on how much longer sick people will live is thriving. Is this new market in which life insurance policies are bought and sold a legitimate enterprise, or is it an open invitation to fraud and murder?

Carver Hartnett, Miranda Pryor, and Leonard Stillmach all work for Reliable Allied Trust, in Omaha, where they investigate insurance fraud. Carver — the narrator of this edgy and surprising novel — is frustrated. His company would rather raise premiums than prosecute insurance criminals. Miranda, his seductive coworker, leads him on and then puts him off — she seems to have something monstrous to hide. When their friend, crazy Lenny, a computer gamer and an expert with drug-and-alcohol cocktails, dies in the middle of playing Delta-Strike online, a strange and disturbing narrative unfolds around a possible murder and massive insurance fraud. Carver is drawn deeper into various hearts of darkness, and in his efforts to discover the truth behind his friend's death, he ends up betting his own life.

Filled with memorable characterizations — Carver's boss, the shrewd Old Man Norton; Dagmar Helveg, Norton's fascist assistant; regional investigator Charlie Becker, a plain-talking, commonsense cop — Bet Your Life conducts a stealthy philosophical investigation of its own, in which our hero ends up investigating the mysteries of his soul.

The New Yorker

Throughout his career, Dooling has written socially relevant satires that take aim at corrupt professional institutions; here he targets the insurance industry. Carver Hartnett, the protagonist, works at Reliable Allied Trust in Omaha, where, along with his colleagues Miranda Pryor (a seductive tease with a deceptively innocent past) and Lenny Stillmach (a brilliant burnout with substance-abuse issues), he investigates insurance fraud. When Lenny turns up dead after a particularly strenuous session of an online shoot-'em-up game, Carver enlists Miranda to help solve the mystery, and soon believes that she may be involved. The labyrinthine plot, pitched in tone midway between John Grisham and Carl Hiassen, ostensibly focusses on viatical benefits, in which the policies of the terminally ill are bought by a company at a cut rate, thus allowing the dying to live out their final days with ample cash. There are plenty of detours, too, into Internet chat rooms, medical ethics, and drug culture, and the result is like the fraudulent insurance files Carver investigates: messy but fascinating.