The Deal: About Face by Adam Gittlin
The Deal: About Face by Adam Gittlin (Oceanview Publishing, 2014) is the second in The Deal Trilogy and one of these books in which the author is being overambitious. To understand the problem, we have to go back to the first in the series where Jonah Gray, a New York real estate expert, finds himself embroiled in a crooked deal which all goes very sour. The major property transaction he’s supposed to be negotiating turns out to be merely an excuse to bring money into America for a rather unexpected purpose. When first his father and then a police officer are found dead, it’s all looking bad for him. But he manages not only to survive, but also to be able to leave the country. This book now picks up the pace some nine years later as our hero finds himself with an opportunity to return to New York for another big deal. This time, he’s working for Corbus de Bont of de Bont Beleggings, a major Dutch player with a large property portfolio. The book therefore has three major strands.
The first is the process of bringing us up to date on how Jonah Gray managed to become Ivan Janse, a Dutch citizen and righthand man to an international financier. While I’m not uncomfortable with the plastic surgery side of the transformation — I’m prepared to believe a major physical restructuring of the face can conceal a former identity — I find the cultural transformation from a sophisticated American wheeler dealer into a more humble Dutch man more difficult to swallow. I’m not so much worried about the portability of the knowledge and skills of the property world. Obviously whatever was learned in dealing with American property can be applied to European buildings and their exploitation for profit. But this is supposedly a transformation that passes muster in Holland. As Ivan Janse, he not only speaks Dutch with a credible accent, but English with a Dutch accent. Natural language ability is not something you pick up in six months, no matter how intensively you study. Then we have the ability to blend in with local culture from day one. For the record, he’s doing his learning in Switzerland and must be able to leap fully formed into a Dutch work environment. Frankly, this is never going to work. I’m reminded of O.S.S. (1946) in which Alan Ladd and a small group of Americans learn the “French way” and are parachuted into France to join the Resistance. On the first night, one of the team is eating in a French restaurant and automatically eats in the American style of cutting food up with the right hand and then transferring the fork. Needless to say, he’s arrested by the Gestapo as he leaves the restaurant. In other words, no matter how carefully you train and how important it is to remain in character, there are one-hundred-and-one ways in which you give yourself away to local people.
The second strand deals with one of these historical mysteries coming out of the confusion of the last days in Russia before the revolution was complete. Our hero was caught up in a plot to acquire some of the Fabergé eggs. During his time in Holland, he’s been pursuing research into their history and trying to understand why it should be so important for anyone to acquire the “missing” eggs today. As the plot unfolds, we have a number of clues which would suggest our understanding of events in Russia is wrong. As I was growing up, there were periodic rumours that Grand Duchess Anastasia had survived the culling of the Romanovs. Various women asserted their identity as in Anastasia (1956) with Ingrid Bergman playing Anna Anderson in one of the more entertaining efforts to capture the debate over her claim. I can’t say my interest was captured by this particular mystery surrounding the eggs.
Which leaves us with the core property transaction which takes our hero and Corbus de Bont to America. There’s a choice between a European and a New York property. It suits our hero to prefer the American option because it allows him the chance to return in his new identity to see whether anything can be done to clear his name. However, from the outset, it’s obvious there’s something wrong with the proposed transaction. This represents the only real feature of interest in the book as our hero slowly does his due diligence and uncovers the worm in the (big) apple. I’m less than convinced by all the running around in New York. It has a fairly well-worn thriller formula at work as he meets up with previous friends and associates, reveals his new face, and pushes forward with his personal agenda.
So The Deal: About Face moves the story forward with a moderately complex structure of time-hopping to fill in the historical gaps over the last nine years. The contemporary property transaction is interesting but not enough on its own to save the book which feels muddled as it tries to fit too many different strands together.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.