Prison Correspondence Gives Bernie Madoff the ‘Final Word’

He finds a grim humor in Madoff’s widow, Ruth, whose degree of complicity remains unspecified. Behar interviews the lawyer who has so far tried in vain to give her back her four-poster bed — “shorter than a queen” — and quotes the hard-boiled FBI agent who reprimands her for smoking. “Ruth, that’s going to kill you,” he says. “If only it did,” she replies.

“No wonder Bernie doesn’t mind prison,” the officer says later. “She won’t close the door [bleep] upwards.”

Perhaps most provocatively, Behar takes issue, chapter by chapter, with the characterization of Madoff’s wiped-out clients as “victims,” preferring the term “losers.” Finally, he writes, “These poor unfortunates had been reaping enormous, impossibly consistent profits without so much as a whimper — often for decades.”

He is right that investors need to do due diligence. But there’s a strange, unacknowledged echo with one of Donald J. Trump’s favorite put-downs, making Behar’s own late-in-the-story attempt to conflate Madoff and the former president as avatars of a national mental health crisis seem superficial.

In a large crowd made up of accountants, key clerks, secretaries, traders, defectors, quants, SEC officials, lawyers, court officials and the dearly departed Aunt Adele – who has collaborated with neuroscientists and is calling for a forensic investigation into the warped folds of Bernie’s brain – the psychiatrist Behar consults seems like a last-minute and somewhat awkward invitee.

But even with its quirks and shocks, “Madoff: The Final Word” ties together a story of mythic proportions into a bowl of nuggets. If this is your first time being served, all the better.

MADOFF: The last word | By Richard Behar | Avid Reader Press | 384 pages. | $35

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