Poison Pill by Glenn Kaplan
Poison Pill by Glenn Kaplan (Forge, 2013) is presented to us as a sophisticated financial thriller in which a Russian billionaire sets his sights on acquiring a traditional medium-sized pharmaceutical manufacturer because of a drug in the pipeline he believes will make him even richer. This pits the target company’s CEO, Emma Conway, against her ex-husband Josh Katz who heads the corporate raider with the brief to mount a hostile takeover. OK let me stop there. We have all the elements in those opening sentences to make this a real pot-boiling melodrama. Feuding ex-spouses and their young son Peter have this love-hate relationship. To amp up the emotional baggage to be carried through to the end of the book, the Russian’s daughter Tanya, gets pregnant thanks to Peter Katz’s unprotected efforts. So with the odd girlfriend, current lover, and other stereotypical characters lurking on the margins, we’re expected to find this farrago of rubbish not only interesting but exciting. Some hope!
Josh Katz is one of these amoral characters who’s fought his way up from a poor background to be “someone”. On the surface, he’s supposed to be the modern embodiment of the Gordon Gekko greed-is-good Wall Street manipulator but, within that titanium exterior there beats a heart. Emma Conway, on the other hand, is one of these women born into a family culture where the business and what it represents is everything. She’s as far as it’s possible to get in the company-as-a-person stakes. This is a pharmaceutical company that may be run for profit but her family has always seen its mission as being the benefit of patients around the world. It’s also about all the jobs locally and the strength of community people can feel in being a part of a company bent of doing so much good in the world.
The plot, for want of a better word, is boldly stated in the title. The pharmaceutical company has a poison pill defence all lined up should any takeover be threatened. To beat this, our Russian billionaire has one of his soldiers infiltrate the main factory and dump a large quantity of cyanide in the vats making the biggest selling painkiller. When trust-me-I-know-what-I’m-doing Conway recalls every last pill the company has made to maintain the public’s trust, this is a massive blow to the company’s profit. It’s share price drops like a stone and it gives a basis from which to argue for a very generous rescue bid.
Unfortunately, this is as far as the detail of the “business” goes. My money says that any author worth his salt who wants to write a financial thriller should tell us in far more detail how the takeover has to be managed and how the poisoned pill defence works. We never get to hear any of the detailed discussions of corporate strategy on either side of the battle. The primary focus of the book is on the five characters who, between them, represent the source of all the problems and then their solution. For this book to be even remotely credible, Emma Conway would have to be a tough, ruthless CEO who will let nothing stand in her way when it comes to defending the company. Unfortunately, this would probably make her relatively unlikeable. Culturally, many readers are disturbed by “strong” women characters who beat the pants off the men around them. This leaves us with a woman who comes over as a pill-hugging, save-the-world type who threatens to burst into Kumbaya at the end of all her inspirational speeches. Her son is one of these game-playing teens who’s so full of shit, he thinks he’s going to bring his parents’ marriage back to life. while Tanya is almost completely unrecognisable as a human being, so spoilt and petulant is she. Theres no way she’s going to let herself be married off to her father’s choice so, in the best traditions of a coincidence, she sleeps with Josh not knowing or caring who he is. Isn’t it wonderful how, sometimes, all the elements of a plot just come together as if by magic. Or put another way, Poison Pill is a woeful example of a thriller that should have been left in a bottom drawer and never allowed to see the light of day.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.