The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich
The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich (Doubleday, 2013) starts us off with an emergency meeting late Sunday between Edward Astor, chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, and his friends, Charles Hughes, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Treasury Secretary Martin Gelman. They decide they must warn the President but, as they cross the White House compound, the limo’s software is highjacked and the Secret Service shoots the vehicle full of holes, believing it and its occupants have become terrorists (intelligence in White House security staff is not required).
Bobby Astor has been alienated from his father for years — he got one of these child divorce decrees from a judge to make it legal. So seconds before he dies, Bobby’s father texts the word PALANTIR to his estranged son. Like that’s a subtle form of revenge. The old man was cast aside, so he now tickles the grown man’s curiosity with a code word that’s liable to smash his financial empire and get him killed. Woo hoo! Is that ever revenge from beyond the grave or what! Better still, our hero doesn’t tell the police or FBI he got this inside information. No! He’s thinks he’s a better investigator than the police or the FBI. So what are a few dead bodies left in his wake. He’s the hero and he gets to do hero stuff even though he’s batshit crazy — like the sort of crazy that jumps off a chimney into a swimming pool for a bet crazy. Needless to say, our hero has a heroine ex-wife, Alex Forza. She’s an FBI special agent and she gets to shout at bosses who should know to let her get on with her job and are just so slow they can’t see the wood in the trees shooting up around them. And when they tell her to go home and rest for two days, this is just the provocation she needs to get no sleep for the next week and save America on her own (well, with perhaps a teensy little bit of help from her ex)! Although, when push comes to shove, she’s in there with the enemy, breaking their arms or shooting at them with extreme prejudice intended. She’s one tough cookie which is not what you want when you’re old and have a dickie set of false teeth (BTW in all the decades of my life, I have never heard a Brit actually say “toodles” meaning goodbye — sorry for such an irrelevant thought about some of the language on display in this book).
So here’s the problem. On the one hand we’ve got one of these high-powered attacks on the financial heart of Western capitalism. To help us poor readers understand how fiendishly clever this diabolical plot is, the author keeps stopping to explain some of the ideas underpinning currency and stock trading, e.g. like the practice of shorting. The author never misses a chance to explain something he thinks we might not understand. The result is cumulatively pages of explanatory exposition which does nothing but slow down the pace of the book. At the other end of the scale, the special one wearing the FBI hat is in watching mode for a band of terrorists. Now get this. A neighbor sees some men unloading crates from a truck and, guess what, these guys had carefully written in cyrillic characters, “These are AK47s and we are terrorists!” on the outside (only joking). Sadly no judge would issue a search warrant based on the smartphone picture the neighbour took. So it falls to our heroine and her sidekick to ask to be invited in. Whereupon this highly-trained operative detects this is not a man from Texas but a “foreigner”. She tells this from the way he talks — pretty cool skills! When she tricks him by saying something in French, our wily terrorist makes a big mistake by replying in the same language! Realising he’s given himself away, this minor villain pulls out a gun and starts shooting — it’s easier just to admit guilt from the outset. Anyway, this killer manages to kill some FBI types before falling in a hail of righteous bullets. In the cellar are an alarming number of crates full of weapons — enough for a small army. Thank God for alert neighbors, their smartphones, and the FBI’s willingness to believe whatever they are told. But what are these bad men going to do with all these guns and an antitank weapon? Is the Mumbai scenario? Have they been listening to Leonard Cohen to plan, first, to take Manhattan and then to take Berlin?
Now I don’t want you to get the idea this is a completely brainless book. The central plot idea is not unintelligent. It’s just brainless most of the time as one plot cliché after another is trotted out for us to examine and admire for what it is. Indeed, what this author actually does is take formulaic ideas and elevate them to new heights of inventiveness. And to complete the process, we then have the ultimate coincidence that Bobby’s financial crisis is just a different side of the terrorist coin his ex-wife is investigating. Wow! Is that not a breath-taking turn of events, or what! This leaves our heroine to do a minor piece of globetrotting and there’s a good joke about Paris (which is based on a current real-world location), but all the main action is set in America where the combined terrorist attack is due to take place. As you would expect, the senior ranks of the law enforcement and security agencies are completely ineffective and everyone has to be saved by this husband/wife duo. In other circumstances, this can-do attitude might be inspiring. In this book it’s just absurd.
So there you have it. The Prince of Risk is a disaster from start to finish. You should avoid it.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.