Jailhouse Correspondence Gives Bernie Madoff the ‘Final Word’

He finds a grim humor in Madoff’s widow, Ruth, whose level of complicity remains undetermined. Behar interviews the lawyer who is trying, so far futilely, to return to her the canopied marital bed — “shorter than a queen” — and quotes the hard-boiled F.B.I. agent who chides her for smoking. “Ruth, that’s gonna kill you,” he says. “If only,” she replies.

“No wonder Bernie doesn’t mind prison,” the agent says later. “She won’t shut the [bleep] up.”

Perhaps most provocatively, Behar takes chapter-long issue with the characterization of Madoff’s wiped-out clients as “victims,” preferring the term “losers.” After all, he writes, “these poor unfortunates had been pulling in massive, impossibly consistent profits without a peep — often for decades.”

He’s right that investors should conduct due diligence. But there’s a weird unacknowledged echo with one of Donald J. Trump’s favorite disparagements that makes Behar’s own, late-in-the-narrative attempt to yoke together Madoff and the former president as avatars of a national mental-health crisis seem shallow.

In a large crowd that includes accountants, key punch operators, secretaries, traders, turncoats, quants, S.E.C. officials, lawyers, court officers and the dear departed Aunt Adele — who worked with neuroscientists and calls for a forensic examination of the warped folds of Bernie’s brain — the psychiatrist Behar consults seems like a last-minute and somewhat awkward invitee.

Even with various quirks and jerks, though, “Madoff: The Final Word” boils a story of mythic proportions down to a bowlful of golden nuggets. If this is the first time you’re being served, so much the better.

MADOFF: The Final Word | By Richard Behar | Avid Reader Press | 384 pp. | $35

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