A financial thriller that details a fraud that connects back to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.
During the global financial crisis, a bank in the Cayman Islands goes belly up and looks for a bankruptcy liquidator to help craft favorable terms for its dissolution. U.S. Treasury Secretary George Brennan volunteers his nephew Jack, hoping that he’ll pass along information about the bank’s ties to Chicago organized crime and Colombian drug cartels. Jack begrudgingly accepts the assignment but becomes more reluctant when he learns of the country’s ironclad secrecy laws. Then he visits his grandmother’s old friend in Hungary, Dr. Hans Arbenz, a brilliant Nobel Prize–winning chemist. Arbenz tells him a story about his own friend, Dr. Peter Gombos, a Nobel-laureate physicist, who died in an accidental explosion during Hungary’s Nazi occupation. Gombos’ wife, Svetlana, painted a portrait of her husband in 1943, and Jack later stumbles upon the painting while attending an art auction. He buys it and shows it to Arbenz, who observes four equations on a blackboard in the picture’s background; the chemist deduces that the equations are codes that conceal three bank-account numbers. Jack suspects that the bank he’s helping steward into bankruptcy holds those accounts and that it intends to enrich itself at Gombos’ heirs’ expense. Jack must decipher the formulas and locate Gombos’ descendants—both daunting tasks. Meanwhile, he strikes up a partnership and torrid romance with Elize Haemmerle, an auditor from a Swiss foundation. Landori (Mayhem on the Danube, 2012, etc.) does a marvelous job of weaving an intricately detailed and suspenseful mystery. He’s at his best when evoking the horrors of Nazi aggression against Jews, and the themes of remembrance and moral responsibility recur vividly. At one point, for example, Gombos’ former student, now an old man, pithily explains why he tells stories of Nazi persecution at every opportunity: “To bear witness. To make sure these things don’t happen again.” The plot can be maddeningly complex at times, bordering on convoluted, and its plausibility is sometimes undermined by coincidences. However, it still unfurls briskly and intelligently, with an astute sense of historical awareness.
An exciting, if excessively labyrinthine, tale of white-collar theft and historical tyranny.