Reviewed by: Pete Barber
Approximate word count: 80,000-85,000 words
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A native New Yorker, J.R. Locke worked on Wall Street in the late 1980s.
Jack Cole is an investment banker in a dead-end job, a grubby apartment, and a going-nowhere relationship with his girlfriend. When he’s offered a big break by the three ‘masters of the universe’ who run his firm, Jack grabs it with both hands even though he knows the work will be a little on the seedy side.
Jack is a well-drawn character. The project he’s offered involves a takeover of an old family business that supports thousands of loyal employees. His firm is attracted to the deal because the company has a massive, fully funded pension plan and they want to asset strip. Jack sets up a ‘shell’ company and proceeds with the takeover process. With the huge increase in income (from a three-stage bonus) he starts to live the high-life, buys an expensive apartment, snorts a little, drinks more than he should. This descent was well structured and believable, reminded me a little of Bright Lights Big City.
He hooks up with his old girlfriend from college (the love of his life) and everything seems to be going swimmingly until the colleague who’s working the deal with Jack gets cold feet and Jack’s bosses send out a hit man to kill him. Jack suddenly gets a conscience and tells his bosses that he can’t go through with the dirty deal. Obviously, his bosses shaft him, and his life spirals down the drain. The story follows his descent. His bosses would like to make his departure permanent, and so the assassin is chasing him, too. A helpful detective flits in and out of the picture as a guide and mentor.
I read the whole story without ever wanting to quit, but there was something not quite finished about it. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple days and struggling to define the problem and I think it’s this: the bosses were too stereotypical; the deal closed without a problem; bribes were offered and accepted without a blink of an eye; at first, the girlfriend pretended not to know him and he just accepted it; the ending was unsatisfactory; there were a few too many happy coincidences. In short, although there was no one “big” problem, I think the accumulation of many smaller ones left me feeling the piece lacked polish. It had the makings of a terrific book, but the author took the easy way out too many times and didn’t raise the stakes high enough to make me really care.
Not enough to cause issues
Rating: *** Three stars