My Favorite Bit: Cory Doctorow talks about THE BEZZLE

Cory Doctorow is joining us today to talk about his novel, The Bezzle. Here’s the publisher’s description:

New York Times bestseller Cory Doctorow’s The Bezzle is a high stakes thriller where the lives of the hundreds of thousands of inmates in California’s prisons are traded like stock shares.

The year is 2006. Martin Hench is at the top of his game as a self-employed forensic accountant, a veteran of the long guerrilla war between people who want to hide money, and people who want to find it. He spends his downtime on Catalina Island, where scenic, imported bison wander the bluffs and frozen, reheated fast food burgers cost 25$. Wait, what? When Marty disrupts a seemingly innocuous scheme during a vacation on Catalina Island, he has no idea he’s kicked off a chain of events that will overtake the next decade of his life.

Martin has made his most dangerous mistake yet: trespassed into the playgrounds of the ultra-wealthy and spoiled their fun. To them, money is a tool, a game, and a way to keep score, and they’ve found their newest mark—California’s Department of Corrections. Secure in the knowledge that they’re living behind far too many firewalls of shell companies and investors ever to be identified, they are interested not in the lives they ruin, but only in how much money they can extract from the government and the hundreds of thousands of prisoners they have at their mercy.

A seething rebuke of the privatized prison system that delves deeply into the arcane and baroque financial chicanery involved in the 2008 financial crash,  The Bezzle is a sizzling follow-up to  Red Team Blues.

What’s Cory’s favorite bit?

The Joys of Exposition (How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Infodump)

UHT milk need not, technically, be refrigerated, but it is pivotal, in what is to follow, that the milk be only a few microdegrees above the point of freezing. The fridge in Randy’s apartment has louvers in the back where the cold air is blown in, straight from the freon coils. Randy always stores his milk-pods directly in front of those louvers. Not too close, or else the pods will block the flow of air, and not too far away either. 

Neal Stephenson,Cryptonomicon

We live in the golden age of the scam, and complexity is the scammer’s best friend.

Any time you’re on the receiving end of a heavily ornamented proposition – a craps table with its crowded pay-lines, an insurance policy with a long list of options, a subscription with an array of extras – you can be sure that those aren’t harmless fripperies. They exist to confound your intuition, to ramify the odds until you can’t calculate them in your head.

I love – love – teasing apart these scams, getting to the root of how they work, stripping away the performative complexity, laying them bare. I love a scam as a work of human ingenuity, as a guide to hidden human cognitive frailties, as stinging indictment of the failure of our society’s toothless fraud watchdogs.

Perhaps you feel the same: do you thrill as I do to a great Jon Oliver explainer? Relish Adam Conover ruining everything? Would you have enjoyed The Big Short just as much if Margot Robbie had been fully clothed and standing at a white-board?

I enjoy this kind of thing on so many levels. Sure, I like being better informed about all the ways that greedy sociopaths are hoping to ruin my life in their relentless quest for unjust enrichment. But I also love this stuff professionally, both in my capacity as a digital rights campaigner (a job I’ve worked for 20 years, trying to get normies to care about bad tech policy before it ruins their lives); and as a fiction writer.

That’s where the Marty Hench novels come in. Hench’s first appearance was in last year’s Red Team Blues, where I introduced readers to my hard-boiled, two-fisted forensic accountant, Silicon Valley’s finest, who’d spent the past four decades unraveling every scam to have hatched from a tech bro’s feverish imagination.

Red Team Blues allowed me to indulge my love of exposition and my love of fiction. I used the book as a framework for talking about esoteric economics (Modern Monetary Theory), esoteric information security (Trusted Computing Modules), why cryptocurrency is a scam, and how blockchain forensics work. It was a ball.

There’s a bit of received wisdom that fiction writers should always “show, not tell,” and that “infodumps” are reader-engagement poison. And yet, I’ve always loved a good infodump (if Neal Stephenson’s infamous “eating Captain Crunch” scene in Cryptonomicon had been 16,000 words rather than 1,600, I’d have enjoyed it ten times as much). Of course, the key here is good infodump.

When I was teaching on the Writing Excuses Cruise in 2019, I had a student ask me about this. “I’ve read that we should always ‘show, not tell,’ but I love the exposition in your novels and so many others. When can I do infodumps and get away with it?”

That question crystallized something I’d been trying to pin down for years.

Here’s a dirty secret of critiquing and writing instruction: we rarely know why a piece of work is or isn’t working for us. We might feel like there’s not enough action, but that doesn’t mean that more action will fix the book – maybe the problem is that the descriptions or introspection or dialog just isn’t good enough, so the scene is dragging. 

When writers and editors encounter a piece of prose that doesn’t quite gel, we act like we know what’s wrong with it, but more often, all we’re doing is running through a checklist of things that are easy to screw up – and hard to get right.

Good exposition is hard to do. It needs to be clear. it needs to be interesting. And it helps if it’s salient – relevant to the reader’s real-world interests.

Dissections of the scam economy fit all three categories.

In The Bezzle, I take Marty Hench back in time to the early 2000s for a novel-length romp through real scams – from the tens of thousands of rusting barrels of DDT that Montrose Chemical sank to the bottom of the Catalina Channel to the hijacking of Real Estate Investment Trusts so that a tax shelter designed to help retirees rent out an apartment now let real estate barons carve billions and whole city blocks out of the tax system. I delve into low comedy – a complicated Ponzi scheme built around buying and selling flash-frozen fast-food hamburgers – and high tragedy: the main event in the novel is a faithful reproduction of a prison-tech scam that has been pulled on prison systems up and down the country, that sees inmates stripped of mail, phone-calls, in-person visits,  parcels, the library and higher ed, and then given “free” tablets where all of these things are delivered at eye-watering prices.

I even work in a true-to-life royalty-theft scam that is ripped from the real world plight of innumerable great soul, funk and R&B artists.

These scams are secrets that the wealthy and corrupt hide behind jargon and performative complexity. Marty Hench is the kind of character who can lay these schemes out on a table, slice them open, and remove and inspect their diseased organs one at a time.

The exposition in this book is unapologetic. It’s angry. It’s useful. And (I think) it’s amazing. 

I hope you agree.


Book Link





Cory Doctorow ( is a science fiction author, activist and journalist. He is the author of many books, most recently THE LOST CAUSE, a solarpunk science fiction novel of hope amidst the climate emergency. His most recent nonfiction book is THE INTERNET CON: HOW TO SEIZE THE MEANS OF COMPUTATION, a Big Tech disassembly manual. Other recent books include RED TEAM BLUES, a science fiction crime thriller; CHOKEPOINT CAPITALISM, nonfiction about monopoly and creative labor markets; the LITTLE BROTHER series for young adults; IN REAL LIFE, a graphic novel; and the picture book POESY THE MONSTER SLAYER. In 2020, he was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

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