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What to Read Next (No. 253): Bad Blood
Happy Friday, readers!
If you celebrated the holiday, I hope you enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast yesterday. You now have the weekend to recover by sitting on the couch and reading a book or two! I started Stacy Shiff’s new The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, which is great so far, and I’m just about done with Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, which is tremendous.
In today’s newsletter, I’m going to the dark side with a murder mystery and a real life corporate horror story that’s back in the news this week.
Let’s get to the books!
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
I reviewed the first three Inspector Gamache books back in September, which were all very good but definitely had the feel of an author finding her way. Penny hadn’t yet found her groove. But in book four, A Rule Against Murder, you can tell she’s taken the writing and story construction up a notch — and the series never slows down from there.
A Rule Against Murder is different from the first three books in that it takes place away from Three Pines and the primary cast of characters we came to know early on. This actually makes it a perfect entry point, if you’re not inclined to read the entire series; it functions as more of a standalone than the other books.
In this one, Inspector Armand Gamache is on vacation with his wife at a lovely chateau in the woods, when, surprise surprise, somebody ends up dead. A storm has trapped the residents and kept anyone from coming or going, which makes it a locked room mystery — a very fun and particular niche within the genre.
In the locked room mystery, circumstances are such that there’s a limited group of people capable of perpetrating the crime — think Knives Out, Only Murders in the Building (sort of), and a lot of Agatha Christie novels, including And Then There Were None and Death on the Nile.
Someone inside the chateau has committed the murder and Gamache has to figure it out before they can escape or strike again.
A couple of unexpected friends show up, Gamache calls in reinforcements, and the obvious long-simmering bad blood between family members comes to head.
Of the eight Gamache novels I’ve read so far, A Rule Against Murder is one of my few favorites. I’ll say it again and again: if you’re at all into mystery novels, Louise Penny must be on your list.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Late last week, fraudster Elizabeth Holmes was sentenced to 11 years in prison for duping investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars with her blood testing company, Theranos. I’ve been following the story since Holmes’ nefariousness was publicly revealed back in 2015. Ya’ll know I can’t resist a Silicon Valley drama.
In 2018, Wall Street Journalist John Carreyrou published Bad Blood, which immediately became a bestseller and was one of my favorite reads that year. There’ve been podcasts and docuseries about Theranos and Holmes, but I still think the book is worth reading — there’s no detail of the story glossed over, and those details are just wild.
The backstory may be familiar but is worth revisiting: Holmes was a Stanford dropout who had an idea to revolutionize blood testing: What if there was a small, portable, wifi-enabled machine that could test a single drop of blood for hundreds of conditions in just a few minutes?
Turns out the reality of creating that machine was a bit harder than the dream.
But Holmes didn't let on to that fact. She duped some of the most well-known investors in Silicon Valley into believing she had a working blood analyzer and faked her way through government regulations and protocols. Obscene amounts of money were poured into Theranos, and in 2015 at the age of 31, Holmes was reported to have a net worth of over $4 billion.
It was the definition of a meteoric rise, and the media fawned over her with glowing profiles and TV interviews by the dozens (note the buggy eyes and faked baritone voice — it’s so bizarre!):
Slowly, and with the help of extremely courageous whistleblowers (who were followed and threatened and sued many times over), it all started to unravel. And once the machine was actually rolled out to a number of retail stores, it became clear that it didn't work, and was in fact putting patients in harm's way.
Carreyrou was the first reporter to publicly reveal the company’s problems, and this book includes not only the Theranos story, but the remarkable lengths Holmes went to in order to keep Carreyrou from publishing.
Bad Blood was a much-needed cautionary tale about Silicon Valley culture, which often rewards charisma more than character.
Even though many of us know the details of the story, Carreyrou’s narrative is just as engrossing and jaw-dropping as it was four years ago.
That’s all for me this week! Thanks so much for the time and inbox space — I deeply appreciate it.