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Summer Is Not Over

Truth Scarier Than Fiction


RATS! Summer’s over, like a beachy love affair that flared like a Fourth of July rocket but fizzled out like leftover Labor Day barbecue coals.

And there’s still a pile of summer reading by my bed. It begged for my urgent attention in June, like hungry cats, but now the books and magazines lurk more like sleeping dogs that have given up hope of being walked.

Waves of guilt force me into action, so I attack.

First to go are the dated piles of high-end intellectual magazines on the patio, with headlines screaming of global crises, political blundering, and ecological horrors, hopefully all settled by now.

As for the books, what I looked forward to in May, a legal page-turner from reliable John Grisham, Camino Island, quickly dissolves like sugar in a glass of cold lemonade. A group of boring (John, how could you?) quasi-writers fritter away their days (and dubious talents) on Florida’s sleepy Camino Island slurping down cocktails.

Yes, there’s a mystery of sorts. A gang of thieves plan to steal F. Scott Fitzgerald’s priceless original manuscript of The Great Gatsby and other works from Princeton.

A young woman visiting the island with writer’s block is enlisted to foil the ruse and eventually ends up sleepily in bed with a bad guy. This is no torrid love affair. All in all, temperatures are not rising on Camino Island.

Thinking I knew just everything there was to know about Ernest Hemingway, I opened Mary V. Dearborn’s new bio, Ernest Hemingway, and found a great deal of new lore, much of it on the gossipy side. In 738 pages, Dearborn treats us to both the highs and lows of his four marriages. He seems to have been a rough guy to get along with, hard on wives and friends alike.

Considering its heft, the book is fairly light on actual literary criticism, but what the heck, it’s post-summer reading.

What surprised me in my pile of books was Red Notice ​— ​not the fictional shoot-’em-up with Cold War commies I’d expected, but Bill Browder’s account of Russian skullduggery ripped from today’s newspaper pages.

Browder rejected a proposed film deal with George Clooney, instead going with scriptwriter William Nicholson to create a movie from the 2015 book. Villain of the film: none other than Vladimir Putin.

Red Notice is subtitled A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice. It’s all of that.

I remember the fuss his grandfather, Earl Browder, caused as a Communist running for U.S. president in the 1930s. (He lost, by the way.)

Bill Browder was a smart kid, went to the University of Chicago, and got an MBA from Stanford. He then decided that he’d go to Russia, of all places, and get rich. And he did, before running afoul of Putin.

In 2000, Browder brags, his Hermitage fund “was ranked as the best-performing emerging market fund in the world.” Until 2005 he was the largest foreign investor in Russia.

But he was also attracting the wrong kind of attention. Things began to go wrong. He began leading a campaign to expose Russia’s governmental corruption and civil rights abuses. Then things really got hot, as you can imagine.

For one thing, his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was helping uncover a $230 million fraud by government officials, Browder writes. When Moscow officials cracked down ​— ​not on the fraudsters but on Browder’s people ​— ​his men managed to flee. Magnitsky bravely ​— ​or foolishly ​— ​decided to stay and fight for justice.

As a result, he was arrested on trumped-up charges, tortured, and murdered in prison, Browder writes. The Russians claimed that he died of natural causes. In a bizarre distortion of justice, his corpse was put on trial and convicted.

Browder, also facing arrest, lives in England. Russia has since issued a “Red Notice” through Interpol, which means he faces arrest and deportation to Russia if he crosses any international border. He’s charged with tax evasion, always a convenient accusation in Russia.

“If I’m killed, you will know who did it,” he writes in Red Notice. At this writing, Browder’s still alive, but I wouldn’t sell him life insurance.



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