A bond trader gets into trouble in this cautionary debut thriller.
As the novel opens, Wall Street wunderkind George Wilhelm is on top of the world circa 1993. Following a swift education at the International Monetary Fund, he’s moved into the big leagues at City Trust Bank’s emerging markets desk. He has a sexy girlfriend, an imminent bonus approaching two million dollars and a tawdry Manhattan apartment nicknamed “Club 16B” that he shares with four decadent roommates and their rotating cast of party girls. The arcane details of George’s day job (trading defaulted Central-American debt in the aftermath of NAFTA) convey plenty of verisimilitude but make for taxing reading. Until his short, brutal fall from grace, this is a slow mover. The pace picks up once George’s gambling addiction spirals out of control. He finishes the football season down a large sum of money, and his bookie sells the debt to a pair of outlandish collection specialists: Frank, a brutish fireplug with no sense of humor, and Kevin, a wild-eyed sadist who cribs one-liners and negotiating techniques from Reservoir Dogs. George winds up shambling through midtown Manhattan, popping Percocets to dull the pain of an amputated finger and contemplating the murder of his blackmailers. To save his body, if not his soul, he embarks on a Byzantine act of financial skullduggery, laundering a staggering sum through the Bahamas with the help of a coke-addled accomplice. The similarity between Wall Street’s pressure-cooker intensity and the grisly, albeit comically presented, menace of real racketeering is compellingly drawn. Soon, George is forced to make murderous choices that could ruin him.
Like its reluctantly crooked protagonist, the book gets most of its punch from vice, not virtue.