The Fraud Squad
Grade : D+

To enjoy Kyla Zhao’s The Fraud Squad, you have to believe there is moral value in being a socialite, and that holding such a lofty position implies merit rather than familial good fortune. Being wealthy and ostentatious are virtues rather than vices. And glorifying entitled rich people provides societal good rather than magnifying the staggering unfairness of extreme income inequality and over-the-top consumption and greed. Because these are all things that the heroine seems to believe, and it makes for a very eye-rolling read.

Samantha Song holds a decent but pedestrian job at a PR firm, but what she truly longs to do is write about rich people and their extravagant, wealthy lifestyles. Specifically, she’d like to work for the famous editor Missy (only one name due to her immense fame) at the top luxury brand magazine S. Unfortunately, Sam is not a member of high society, her family background being very solidly working class. Given the high levels of nepotism in the business world of Singapore, this means that Sam has no hope of ever rising out of her tedious job despite the fact that she consumes gossip and info about rich socialites like it’s Godiva chocolate.

Sam determines that if she is able to enter society and be accepted as a socialite herself, she will have the ‘in’ that she needs to snag a position at S. No need to prove that she has any writing skills because in this world, all you need is a wealthy family pedigree or at least the illusion of one.

Enter Sam’s co-worker and actual socialite, Anya Chen, and Anya’s good friend and heir to a hedge-fund empire, Timothy Kingston. Tim and Anya agree to sponsor this crazy scheme, Tim by dragging Sam to a bunch of socially prestigious events, and Anya by supplying the high-end designer clothes that will mark Sam as a rich gal. They call themselves the Fraud Squad.

Miraculously, the Fraud Squad plan seems to work. By showing up to high-society events in Anya’s borrowed clothes, Sam finds herself accepted by the Ritchie Riches of Singapore. She’s well on her way to securing an invite to the S Gala, the lynch pin in her plan to gain acceptance from Missy and a column in the magazine, when Sam begins to realize that socialites aren’t exactly the best people in the world simply by virtue of being wealthy. And that even those that she calls friends are hiding secrets.

The Fraud Squad is a clearly a wannabe cousin of Kevin Kwan’s runaway hit, Crazy Rich Asians. The difference is that Crazy Rich Asians is basically a Cinderella story with a heroine who, thankfully, has a lot more agency. The Fraud Squad, however, evokes a Cinderella who attends the ball not for an evening away from her drab, miserable life, but rather so she can snag the rich prince and move into a luxurious castle with closets full of Louboutin shoes and Gucci handbags.

Sam’s underlying motivation is understandable. After her father died, the family was left in a lot of debt. Her mother works a horrible job as a nail technician, while Sam’s education has only netted her a career with limited prospects. For some reason, she believes that if she can only work for a high-end magazine, all of her problems will go away. It isn’t mentioned that working for S comes with a six-or-seven figure salary, so I didn’t quite understand that logic. Apparently, in Sam’s world, being associated with socialites through a socialite-centric job would mean attaining the lifestyle – and money – of a socialite. Okay.

Her scheme to achieve this nebulous goal is ridiculous. If she pretends to be a socialite and simply shows up at the right events, people will think she is a socialite. No worries about answering questions about her family even though it seems that family connections are the true currency in the lofty circles of the Singapore elite. Sadly, this zany plan seems to work because all Sam has to do to be catapulted into the upper sphere of society is, indeed, show up and wear designer couture. We are shown nothing of her dazzling the ‘ton’ with her wit and worldliness, only barraged with high-end name brand dropping as indication that Sam is now officially Klassy with a K.

But then again, Samantha is a Mary Sue of the first order, perfect at everything in every way. She puts one character in his place by quoting economic policy she read in a magazine, despite the fact that he has advanced business degrees from Harvard and Cambridge. Sam is the only one who seems to know that the Dada in fashion designer Christian Dada’s brand is because his work is inspired by Dadaism. (I’ve never heard of Christian Dada but figured that out immediately.) She has the perfect marketing plan to help an elder socialite launch her fundraising cookbook into the stratosphere. Prestigious journalists want to interview her and do photo spreads of her because… she showed up at some event and was apparently very eloquent. There is nothing that Sam doesn’t know about, usually because of her extensive magazine reading. For such a young character, she sure has a lot of convenient experience.

Timothy’s motivation for going along with this stunt is even more bizarre. His family expects him, as the eldest son, to take a position in the Kingston family financial empire and eventually become its ruler – but he wants to do undefined artsy things. He figures if he helps Samantha prove that being born not-a-socialite doesn’t mean that Sam can’t do socialite things and get socialite-only jobs, he’ll prove to his family that being born an entitled rich boy doesn’t mean he has to go into the entitled rich boy business. He ignores the fact that Sam has to pretend to be a socialite to accomplish her goals. Which kind of defeats his argument.

Almost all of the characters are stereotypes. A friend in the financial sector only wants to discuss tax policy and talks like he’s an AP Economics textbook. A guy who makes documentaries wears a beret and trendy tortoiseshell glasses. Tim’s socialite girlfriend is a beautiful but petty dictator who treats everyone like trash.

There is a romance between Tim and Sam, but they lack chemistry and the whole thing feels like a sub-plot – it held no interest for me at all. And to say the ending is Disney-esque is an understatement.

Given the level of continued fame and attention lavished on the Kardashians and their cohorts, it’s clear that there is appetite for the antics of the rich and famous-only-for-being-famous. And if you enjoy the escapism of watching these people live their unbelievably entitled lives, then The Fraud Squad might be your thing. Personally, I just don’t get it.

Reviewed by Jenna Harper

Grade: D+

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : February 13, 2023

Publication Date: 01/2023

Review Tags: AoC PoC Singapore

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  1. Thanks for setting me straight, Caz. Yes, I could not remember her lover’s name! I still enjoy reading about Lady…

Jenna Harper

I'm a city-fied suburban hockey mom who owns more books than I will probably ever manage to read in my lifetime, but I'm determined to try.
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