The Colgate Scene
January 2003

Reviews
Who Killed Tiffany Jones cover
Who Killed Tiffany Jones?
A novel by "Mavis Kaye"
Created by Bill Adler and Mel Watkins '62
Amistad Books

Who Killed Tiffany Jones, by the fictitious Mavis Kaye, was created by Mel Watkins '62 with a three-person writing team. The novel rewards $10,000 to the reader who can pan the mists surrounding 13 murders, three methods of smuggling diamonds and just who is Sally. With a March 1, 2003 deadline for entries, a rush to judgment could turn a double-edged sword into a triple-bladed saber, as each succeeding chapter slashes the guts out of certitudes derived from the one before. The months it may take to ponder and postulate, however, could easily drive even Elmore Leonard or Walter Mosley afficionados stone crazy.

The challenge to armchair super-sleuths is made more difficult by the quality of the writing. The reader who isn't focused on copping the cash will probably drift into the clutches of a well-told story. Tiffany Jones, queen of a long-dead disco era, is making an unprecedented comeback, headlining a night at the Apollo alongside such heady company as Boyz II Men and Soul II Soul. She is introduced as "delightful, divine and delicious," fresh from a European tour and the Oprah show, as her 16-piece tuxedo-clad orchestra blares "Satin Doll." But the diva doesn't deliver on the entrance; instead, she's found dead on the dressing-room floor, with the door locked from the inside and no other apparent signs of foul play.

From Harlem to Amsterdam, Las Vegas, Dallas, Atlanta, over to Freetown, Sierra Leone and back to Warren, Ohio, the fast-paced plot unfolds and enshrouds itself simultaneously with acquaintances brought to life and killed off within a few pages. While some characters are thrown in to divert the journey down ambiguously blind alleys, others meet their grisly fates only after initially establishing themselves as the seemingly obvious manager of the mayhem. Halfway through the tome, readers are introduced to Mariana Blair, a 28-year-old London tabloid journalist, who starts putting pieces together and knows she is on to the biggest story of her career. "One that would lift her out of anonymity," she realizes, "and establish her reputation as an investigative reporter. Still, she wondered if she wasn't in over her head -- if she shouldn't have gone to the police or shared the information she has uncovered with someone else at the paper."

But Mariana has never trusted her editor and smells a European Union Press Award and a best-selling book. So she calls Kim Carlyle, Tiffany's manager and one-time New York City police officer, with her hunches, and goes off to a club to track down more actors for the drama. (When Carlyle rings up an old confidant, still on the force, to compare notes, he muses, "What do we have here? A plot to kill off black artists and return pop music to white folks?") Along with the mystery, the heavy action also entails drug trafficking, gun running and diamond smuggling, plus knocking off a member of Congress and taking on the mob.

(Who Killed Tiffany Jones may be purchased at www.alumniofcolor.org/wktj. Proceeds will be donated to the Colgate Alumni of Color scholarship funds.)"

Walt Shepperd is senior editor of the Syracuse New Times, a three-time winner of the New York Press Association's Writer of the Year Award and executive producer of the national award-winning teen performance troupe The Media Unit.
Financial Instruments cover
Financial Instruments
A comprehensive guide to accounting and reporting
Leslie F. Seidman '84
Aspen Publishers

The financial press has been dominated for several months by news of Enron-like corporate malfeasance and growing concern that the accounting industry and Wall Street have failed as fiduciary gatekeepers. Particularly given the integral role played by the past decade's explosive growth in derivatives and other structured financial products, Financial Instruments, an accounting reference by Leslie Seidman '84, could not have come along soon enough.

For the benefit of accounting professionals, analysts, board members, executives and investors alike, Seidman tackles the full spectrum of financial instruments and provides a comprehensive and remarkably up-to-date accounting reference. Her work is unusual in its breadth of coverage of financial instruments and their accounting, and unique in its use of practical observations, references to otherwise disparate source material and readable, plain-English style. If only actual financial statements and their accompanying disclosures were as user-friendly as Seidman's treatment, we would be that much better served.

One thing this book makes crystal clear: the complexity of today's myriad financial products is exceeded only by the fluid and too-vague rules that establish their proper and (one hopes) practical accounting treatment. Seidman's observations and pointers from the outset consistently remind us that "readers should be alert to developments in this area" and "this area is currently in a state of flux." Two points she makes were especially telling to this reviewer. First, that "the required quantitative disclosures will be very difficult for many companies to compile" and "if questions arise about whether a particular instrument is a security, it may be necessary to engage legal counsel." Problematically, it seems only a lawyer can tell the difference between cash and collateral any more.

While the deeper "how-to" of financial instrument accounting is the successful purpose of Seidman's exhaustive reference, unfortunately the broader "why" is not. This book reminds us only by implication that accounting is widely misunderstood today to be a science but is, in fact, an art; it is open to interpretation and judgment that can undermine its efficacy. Conveniently, the book flags these more subjective and complex accounting areas in the process of steering us through today's exhaustive rules. There remains little wonder, however, that analysts, investors and board members struggle to distill from even proper accounting data the value-added information we seek.

Similarly beyond the book's mandate as a reference text, but of greater importance, is the implication that breaking accounting rules a la Enron or WorldCom is easy; it is compliance that's hard! These are broader and more important, albeit subjective, questions to address elsewhere now that Financial Instruments has both summarized and detailed the accounting fundamentals as they stand today.

To her credit, the author uses a clever organization and unique style that imposes order to an unwieldy subject and yields a reference that is both thorough and practical.

Bob Austrian is a software analyst and managing director at Banc of America Securities.
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