Money Wanders

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  • About Money Wanders

    What if Tony Soprano hired a spin doctor? That’s the intriguing premise of Eric Dezenhall’s debut novel, Money Wanders, which provides a fascinating insider’s 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.

    Money Wanders | Eric Dezenhall“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 can’t 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, it’s his life. So begins the most outrageous summer of Jonah’s 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 mob’s ban on selling drugs, to hoodwink a gullible public.

    To help turn Vanni into a Digital Age mensch, Jonah enlists the aid of his grandfather’s 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. There’s Noel, Vanni’s ambitious young henchman, who’s as committed to outdated pop culture fantasies of the Mafia as Vanni is to using presidential consultants to get “outta the life.”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 Price’s fabled billion dollar stash. There’s also Al Just, a self-righteous TV news reporter, whom Jonah is unwittingly manipulating to spread Vanni’s message. The former Alvin Yutzel of Jonah’s childhood, he’s the only one in the press who can identify Jonah as the mastermind behind the Machiavellian plot.

    Jonah is forced to confront his family’s gangland roots and the parallels between the weapons of high-tech skullduggery and those of his grandfather’s thugs. He realizes that, like their mobster counterparts, some spin doctors orchestrate assassinations with the intent of ending people’s 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 City’s infamous boardwalk. Dezenhall says, “The book’s 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.


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  • Reviews for Money Wanders

    “A New Jersey mafia don can’t get a casino license, so he hires public relations rep Jonah Eastman to clean up his image. Clever and cringe-inducing.” Read the Full Review

    Money Wanders is a great read… full of odd characters, quirky locations and a clever, fresh plot that kept me turning pages. A complicated and hilarious spin campaign makes the mobster a national hero… the brilliance of the spin is worth the price alone.”

    “A comedic tale of media manipulation and mob bravura… it’s a saltwater dandy.”

    “It’s a little unnerving to read a spin doctor’s book on how easy it is to dupe everybody — but, in Money Wanders, it’s also very funny.”

    “Readers won’t believe this is a first novel: sharply drawn characters, delightful dialogue, and a plot that not only delivers the goods but does so with piles of panache. Even the premise is a knockout… The author, a noted “spin” expert… fills the novel with scads of delicious detail. It is oddly thrilling to watch pollster Jonah Eastman marshal his troops, work his magic, and tell the American public what to think. Not only does Dezenhall have a sure grasp of his material, he also has a nice comedic touch. Like Donald E. Westlake, when he’s in his comedy mode, Dezenhall starts us off chuckling, moves us easily to guffaws, and then winds up with some nicely timed belly laughs… If this debut is any indication, Dezenhall’s career as a novelist shouldn’t need much spinning to take off.”

    “Many people gauge a novel by how hard it is to put down. By that standard Money Wanders is the best book I have picked up this year. It has all the elements of drama, surprise and humor that make for a great work of fiction. The author, Mr. Dezenhall, brings together the not so disparate elements of political polling and organized crime on the Jersey shore… Money Wanders is highly recommended.”

    “In his new book Money Wanders, Eric Dezenhall does something audacious… he somehow transforms South Jersey into an engaging, endearing, quirky character. Our very own South Jersey — so often dismissed as an anonymous geography of nowhere or anywhere — is so vivid a presence in Money Wanders it practically talks. The region’s indelible accent blares from the lips of “Irv the Curve,” Dollsy (the waitress), Fuzzy Marino and other kooky characters in Dezenhall’s picaresque gangster saga/political satire. In Money Wanders, narrator Jonah Eastman, the grandson of a legendary Jewish mobster, is dragooned into orchestrating an elaborate media and Internet campaign to remake an Italian gangster into a populist hero. Only in South Jersey.”

    “What a gangster wants, a gangster gets. That’s one thing we’ve learned from countless mob-genre movies, books and TV shows. But in Eric Dezenhall’s novel, Money Wanders, mob boss Mario Vanni wants a casino license, and he’s not getting one on account of his bad rep and criminal record. So he hires young Republican pollster Jonah Eastman – “College,” to Vanni’s gangster buddies – to improve his image. After some reluctance, Eastman is sufficiently “persuaded” and dives into the project, using D.C. spin tactics usually reserved for politicians – a different breed of crook – to overhaul Vanni’s image. Dezenhall, who now lives in Maryland, based these characters on “the rogues I grew up around in South Jersey,” he says, “the ones with cool nicknames who talked to each other on the Boardwalk with cigars hanging out of their mouths.” The novel is set in Atlantic City and Philadelphia and makes use of such local landmarks as Lucy the Elephant in Margate (it’s Vanni’s secret meeting place) and Ponzio’s in Cherry Hill.”

    “Jonah Eastman, a Washington pollster, was a top Republican image meister in his better days. But his reputation is down, and he’s just about out when he is summoned by a Philadelphia Mafia don who makes him an offer he can’t refuse: improve my image. The mobster, Mario Vanni, wants enough legitimacy to win a big casino license. Conflicted, Eastman obliges, and Money Wanders becomes a riotous parody of Internet players, journalists, politicians and pollsters alike. Eastman finds himself surrounded by Atlantic City wise guys, including some who regard the “Ivory League” graduate as a threat to their turf. As he fends them off, Eastman engineers a campaign of phony Internet postings, stages videos and even a U.S. Senate appearance. This is author Eric Dezenhall’s debut novel, and the former Reagan White House staffer and co-founder of a crisis management firm knows his stuff. His superb eye and ear at times call to mind such masters of the journalistic novel as Tom Wolfe. This is one for the carry-on bag.”

    “Dezenhall nimbly skewers the Internet, journalists, politicians, and public relations spinmeisters and their power to dupe huge numbers of people… Thoughtful, unpretentious, filled with laugh-out-loud funny scenes and delightfully realized characters. Place your bets on this winner.”


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