Cristina Alger’s The Darlings is set in the high stakes world of financial sector New York—the world she grew up in and almost found herself building a career in. Though she planned to work in academia or publishing while an English major at Harvard, after her father’s death on 9/11 she moved back to New York to be close to her mother and got a job at Goldman Sachs that then segued into corporate law.

During her downtime from bankruptcy cases, she began writing a novel about a prominent family—the Darlings—in the midst of the financial crisis in 2008, pitted against SEC attorneys and journalists rushing to uncover the truth. “I wanted to capture 2008 and how it impacted people,” says Alger, who will turn 31 on her book’s release day. “It was a creative release.”

A friend introduced her to agent Pilar Queen of McCormick and Williams, who agreed to represent Alger after reading the first hundred pages. Once the manuscript was complete, it went to Pamela Dorman at her eponymous imprint at Penguin. “When I first read it, it reminded me of a kind of novel I hadn’t seen in a long time. The type of novel Dominick Dunne wrote, with society, money, and intrigue, but for our generation,” says Dorman.

For her part, Alger feels blessed that she was able to leave law and is now writing full-time. “I knew this was what I wanted to do,” she says.