In Mountford's debut, set in mid-last-decade Bolivia, a young man posing as a freelance journalist tries to unearth insider information for a hedge fund while negotiating political and financial intricacies (nimbly) and moral shoals (less so).
Ivy-educated 20-something Gabriel de Boya has opted out of penny-ante financial journalism for a high-stakes, high-stress, preposterously well-paid gig as a rapacious hedge fund's man in Bolivia. He knows he's being tested. If he doesn't demonstrate his value quickly and dramatically, he'll be fired. So when a left-wing indigenous candidate, Evo Morales, is elected president, Gabriel sees and seizes an opportunity; despite growing admiration for Bolivia and real affection for his new girlfriend, Morales' press liaison, Lenka, he'll exploit the romance to learn how seriously to take the president-elect's rhetoric about forcibly nationalizing industry, specifically gas companies. Depending on how his bold and tricky plan works, this stratagem may make Gabriel millions or land him in jail. Both of the book's settings—desperately poor but proud La Paz, the world's highest-altitude capital, and the world of go-go high finance, a realm about which Mountford clearly knows his stuff—are well rendered. The author is especially good at conveying the visceral and intellectual thrills of stock speculation/manipulation. But the human backdrop gets short shrift; minor characters (which would be everyone except Gabriel) often seem contrived, stereotypical and two-dimensional. That lapse has repercussions for the rest of the novel, making it seem more like an apologia for Gabriel's greed and narcissism than a gimlet-eyed exploration of a young man's questionable choices. Gabriel brilliantly games the financial system, but he's less successful at gaming the moral calculus.
A smart, intricate, fast-paced—but flawed—debut by a skilled writer.