What if Tony Soprano hired a spin doctor? Thatís the intriguing premise of Eric Dezenhallís debut novel, Money Wanders, which provides a fascinating insiderís look at the current culture of media and Internet witch hunts and propaganda. Dezenhall methodically shows how false and distorted information is merchandised online and in the media to the public by people who are supposedly respectable, but are really promoting corrupt agendas.
"Every generation has its swindle. Mine had Prohibition. Yours has those damn gadgets." So Atlantic City gangster Mickey Price tells his grandson, disgraced presidential pollster Jonah Eastman, when he returns to the Jersey Shore for a visit. When Mickey dies, local mob boss Mario Vanni approaches Jonah with an offer he canít refuse. Vanni wants to hire Jonah to improve his "misunderstood image" by launching a disinformation campaign that will quash the "bad facts" about him. The payoff for Vanni is a casino license. For Jonah, itís his life. So begins the most outrageous summer of Jonahís career, as he builds a base of popular support for Vanni through the audacious manipulation of the Internet and mass media. Starting with online rumors that quickly migrate to the mainstream press, Jonah ignites dormant racial tensions, creates bogus grassroots organizations, orchestrates pseudo-vigils, and exploits romantic and false gangland myths, such as the mobís ban on selling drugs, to hoodwink a gullible public.
To help turn Vanni into a Digital Age mensch, Jonah enlists the aid of his grandfatherís Prohibition-era cronies: pimply-faced hackers, a disgruntled Secret Service agent, a cagey Washington lobbyist, a street fighting rabbi, and a slick Philadelphia publicist. Unfortunately, there are two people who can prevent Jonah from succeeding with his vast deception. Thereís Noel, Vanniís ambitious young henchman, whoís as committed to outdated pop culture fantasies of the Mafia as Vanni is to using presidential consultants to get "outta the life." Noel wants Jonah dead, but not before Jonah leads him to Mickey Priceís fabled billion dollar stash. Thereís also Al Just, a self-righteous TV news reporter, whom Jonah is unwittingly manipulating to spread Vanniís message. The former Alvin Yutzel of Jonahís childhood, heís the only one in the press who can identify Jonah as the mastermind behind the Machiavellian plot.
Jonah is forced to confront his familyís gangland roots and the parallels between the weapons of high-tech skullduggery and those of his grandfatherís thugs. He realizes that, like their mobster counterparts, some spin doctors orchestrate assassinations with the intent of ending peopleís livelihoods rather than their lives. As Mickey tells Jonah, "You can fool all of the people who want to be fooled, all of the time."
In Money Wanders, Eric Dezenhall takes readers on a gonzo tour through the alleys of damage control at the start of the new millennium, and as one of its leading practitioners, he coins a few Information Age terms along the way. An "electric sniper" is someone who exploits his anonymity to traffic in Internet disinformation. An "evanjournalist" is a reporter who combines evangelism and journalism to crucify or deify a target to support his own agenda. Money Wanders also examines a variety of hot-button issues including the role of the entertainment culture in validating stereotypes of Italian Americans as Mafiosi and African-Americans as violent criminals.
For this smart, fast-paced story, Dezenhall drew on his own experience as a media expert, as well as his childhood on the Jersey Shore among the rogues and racketeers who populated Atlantic Cityís infamous boardwalk. Dezenhall says, "The bookís characters are fictional, the methods are not." Ultimately, Dezenhall shows in Money Wanders that all it takes is a quick modem and a resonant message to convince people that the "devil they know" is a damned nice guy.