Powell’s highlights innovative new mystery novel

Alexandra Flory/The Mossy Log

On a rainy Thursday, Powell’s Books was calming down after a busy day of sales. Customers meandered around the store looking for one last book and employees quietly chatted to one another about the happenings from the day. But if a customer were to venture a bit deeper into the store, walk up to the third floor and enter the used book room, they would find a more lively atmosphere. Here, Cory Doctorow, an intelligent and energetic author and blogger, was invited to Powell’s to give a book talk on his newest book,
“The Bezzle.”

The event occurred on Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. and was a great success; every seat in the room was filled
and still more people stood in the back, lining an entire row of books. The talk featured passionate monologues about the technology and finance industries, Doctorow reading a short excerpt from “The Bezzle” and, of course, answering questions from the audience. 

Powell’s Books hosts author events almost every day, inviting authors to Powell’s to share their work with the Portland community. The events are completely free, but signed copies of the books are available for purchase online and at the event if desired. 

Many attendees had a copy of “The Bezzle” in their laps as they eagerly listened to the writer speak. Doctorow began the event by immediately captivating the audience’s interest with his high energy level and charisma. He joked about “The Bezzle” being one of nine books that he wrote during quarantine in 2020 and the second book in a series that he is writing in reverse order. 

Doctorow explained that the “first” book in this thriller series is “Red Team Blues” which is set in the present day and documents the last adventure of a forensics accountant named Martin Hench. Hench works to unravel cryptocurrency schemes and reveal the shady side of many financial business deals. But in this book, Hench must work from the side of the enemy in a job like he has never done before. 

“Red Team Blues” is supposed to act as the final book in a series about Hench and his feats, but the catch is that there were no other books in the series when he published it. Doctorow explained gleefully that this means he does not have to pay attention to foreshadowing as he writes the rest of the books in the series because the finale has already been written. Therefore, “The Bezzle” is a prequel to a book series that will continue to go farther and farther back in time with each new publication. 

In “The Bezzle,” the time is 2006 and Martin Hench vacations on Catalina Island off the coast of California. It is there that he uncovers a financial scheme involving fast food and bison. But at the heart of the story is Hench’s friend who gets arrested for drug possession and ends up in prison. Together, the two friends work to unravel another scheme taking place at the prison which involves the ultra wealthy trading inmates like stock shares. 

After a quick synopsis of the book, Doctorow went on to passionately engage the audience in a discussion about the private prison system. Doctorow carefully explained the private sector tools that are used in prisons to maximize profits while disregarding the inmates. For example, one scheme that prison-tech companies use is giving prisoners devices, such as phones and tablets, which end up replacing in-person visits and costing much more than typical phone calls from prison. Such schemes like these treat disadvantaged and other marginalized people like guinea pigs for large companies to test out their technology on. Doctorow’s outrage at this scheme lies at the core of
“The Bezzle.” 

After his reading, thoughts of prisoners and capitalism swirled in the minds of the audience, and Doctorow seamlessly answered their questions. What was perhaps the most noteworthy and inspiring aspect of the event was Doctorow’s ability to spin miserable situations into actionable problems to solve. 

The main takeaway from the event was that there are always alternatives. We can change the way the world works by changing norms and laws that control how we are in the world. Doctorow even has an entire blog called “Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow” which basically acts as a journal that he posts online for the entire world to see. It is truly amazing how Doctorow is able to write extensively about anything and everything, even enough to create an entire book.  

The event ended in raucous applause and people lining up to have Doctorow sign their copies of “The Bezzle.” Thankfully, Doctorow is not the only one who gets the opportunity to share their passions and stories at Powell’s. Almost every day, there is a new speaker whose ideas can inspire — all you have to do is seek them out. 

Author events occur at both Powell’s locations in downtown Portland and in Beaverton. They can be found on Powell’s website under “Author Events and Talks.” Copies of “The Bezzle” can be found online or in-store for $27.99.

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