Fear & Greed
by Lawrence Light
Published by Leisure Books
370 pages, 2006
The Art of the Steal
Reviewed by Anthony Rainone
Starbucks coffee shops and dry cleaners aside, New York City is dominated by the world of finance. Wall Street funds the survival of this great metropolis, and it's no surprise that a significant number of its residents and local politicians have careers tethered to that historic money-making district. Lawrence Light knows well the city's testosterone-fueled machinations, and once again brings its money-rules-all influence to bear in his second Karen Glick novel, Fear & Greed. Like its predecessor (Too Rich to Live, 2005), this newest novel is a fast-paced, riveting tour de force of money and politics, and Glick is that best kind of journalist: she pursues the story until the bitter -- and in this case, blockbuster -- end.
This novel's main premise is the creation of a software program named Goldring, which can pick winning stocks. It promises fabulous wealth to anyone who owns it. The software was created by three sisters, who intended to keep it secret and for their use only. Linda Reiner is a "glamorous stockbroker"; her older sister, Ginny, is a Columbia University mathematician and professor; and younger sister Flo is a computer geek. These siblings store the only copy of their innovative program on a laptop computer embossed with a gold ring logo, and use it to make themselves rich. But their secret is not so secret, after all ("There are no secrets on Wall Street" remarks one character). As fate would have it, the laptop is stolen one night, and one of the sisters is killed in the process.
Profit magazine reporter Glick has her hands full in several of this novel's intricately woven plot lines, though all points converge on the main theme -- namely, the retrieval of that pilfered software. Besides her involvement with the sisters Reiner, Glick is also investigating the high-profile, arrogant businessman and entrepreneur Jack Faff. One can imagine that author Light, with his considerable experience as an editor at Forbes magazine, understands the workings of the editorial boardrooms of business journals, and the managerial intrusions of Profit are not to be envied. The depiction of Faff is undoubtedly culled from the more unsavory aspects of Donald Trump's personality (though perhaps with an eye toward deflecting potentially unwanted legal attention, the author points out that Faff is an abbreviated 5-oot-2 in height, whereas Trump is approximately 6-foo-2). Although Glick is the protagonist here, she has stiff competition for reader attention from Faff, mainly because his bravado ("Confident as a dragon, Jack Faff didn't just talk. He produced at top volume so that every sentient being would catch every choice word.") is dynamically drawn, and the man's hubris is comical. Glick discovers, with the help of fellow investigative journalist Frank Vere, that Faff has fallen on hard economic times. Even his garish and popular Atlantic City casino can't pull him out of the red. Discovering the existence of Goldring, Faff naturally wants it for himself. Letting nothing, and no one, stand in his way, Faff plots a diabolical end for the annoying, probing Glick, and a means to buy the software from the thief. When Faff takes Glick into the New Jersey countryside in his new Jaguar, purportedly to give her an interview for her magazine, it provides an edge-of-your seat action sequence.
Fear & Greed is labeled a thriller, and it meets those expectations admirably. The story has grand ambitions in scope and range, and because of that, Light has added into the mix a political dimension. It seems that whoever pinched Goldring in the first place has competition beyond the devious Faff. The existence of Goldring has also been discovered by Kingston Wooten, the director of the Authority, a top-secret anti-terrorist operative group, under the auspices of the U.S. president.
Wooten pursed his lips in annoyance. "I will have this conversation one time more and that is it." His voice belonged to a burning bush. "As the director of the Authority, I can do what I want with impunity as long as I don't embarrass the president. As far as anyone is concerned, we are embarking on a national security operation. The money we chance to make from it will be totally legitimate."
In other words, Wooten can pretty much do as he damn well pleases, without Washington having the slightest idea. Wooten is in financial straights himself, and egregiously abusing his power (not an altogether foreign concept around D.C., these days), he strikes out after Goldring with the help of two main operatives, Dirk Donner and Trixie Logan -- both of whom staged their "deaths" in order that they could go deep under cover. Further enhancing the political axis of this novel, there is an ex-British Intelligence operative thrown into the muddle, who proves to be a handful for Wooten and his staff.
Light had mentioned to this reviewer that he originally wrote his protagonist as a male, but subsequently changed to the female persona of Karen Glick. It was a good move. He writes extremely well from an opposite gender standpoint, with his protagonist being one of the more full-bodied (no pun intended) female sleuths in crime and thriller fiction. Likewise, his depictions of Wooten, a cuckolded, desperate blue blood who has seen his and his cheating wife's money dwindle away, are not cut-out depictions. Rather, the details about them exactly match those of people one might (unfortunately) meet at any Georgetown cocktail party. Light's supporting cast of characters, including Faff's Russian mobster henchmen, the NYPD homicide investigator Detective Friday, and Glick's soon-to-be divorced banker husband, Tim Bratton (the man has no backbone), all play key roles and are used judiciously, without distracting from the plot exposition. This is a well-crafted and thought out novel.
There are numerous twists and turns involved in the elusive quest to possess Goldring, and the body count rises as this book progresses. While the author lets the reader know ahead of time what is going on -- we are told the identity of the killers outright, and plot intentions are well advertised beforehand -- there are enough surprises in Fear & Greed to keep readers from thinking they know all of what's ahead. The ending holds several shockers, one of which comes out of left field, and is overall plausible and ultimately deeply satisfying. Lawrence Light shows considerable talent in developing his characters and plot, and has a good command of pacing, with an eye for human fallibility and humorous situations. If this author chooses to focus on the illegal foibles of Wall Street, he will never encounter a dearth of material. That will be to every reader's benefit, for Light is a talent to keep your eye on. | November 2006