At some point over the last couple of years Stephen Frey made the transition over to my list of "must read" authors. Frey writes what might be best characterized as "financial thrillers." He has been toiling in this field for some years now, and it is somewhat ironic that while publishers are currently seeking "large concept" novels, Frey has been ahead of that particular curve for years. I mean, what concept could be larger than moving around huge amounts of money to someone else's detriment? What is great, fabulous and wonderful about Frey is his ability to render a concept that could be boring in lesser hands completely riveting. And he is at his absolute best to date with his new novel.
THE PROTÉGÉ heralds the welcome return of Christian Gillette, first introduced in THE CHAIRMAN. Gillette is the endearingly ruthless Chairman of Everest Capital, New York's most successful private equity firm. A master at multi-tasking, Gillette is in the middle of taking Everest --- and himself --- to even greater heights when he is approached by an enigmatic stranger with a cryptic proposition. The man, a representative of a shadowy government agency, offers Gillette what is possibly the only thing that means more to him than money: information about his mother --- a woman he never knew --- and the real cause behind his beloved father's suspicious death. All Gillette has to do is permit one of Everest's many companies to be used as a "cut out" to mask the agency's development of a nanotechnology project with significant repercussions for national security.
While Gillette is weighing his options, he has other problems to consider. David Wright, his brilliant and aggressive young protégé, has been acting increasingly erratic. Unbeknownst to Gillette, Wright is being blackmailed --- and he is paying not in money, but in information about Gillette and Everest. Meanwhile, Allison Wallace, a freewheeling heiress of a large investing family, has bought her way into a place at the table of Everest, ostensibly for the purpose of learning the private equity business. Wallace, however, appears to have an agenda that goes beyond simply learning the ropes.
The plot takes a stunning turn when seemingly random events connect, with potentially dire consequences for Gillette and Everest. Gillette suddenly and inexplicably finds himself pursued by the mob, law enforcement and government agents --- with no one to rely on but himself. While the reader can bet on Gillette, half the fun of the book is following him as he extricates himself from a seemingly inescapable trap. Frey is masterful throughout, rendering the complex immediately understandable while spinning a compelling tale of how the rich get richer, but at a cost.
THE PROTÉGÉ ends with at least a couple of loose ends that undoubtedly will be addressed, if not resolved, in future Gillette novels. Hopefully THE PROTÉGÉ will be Frey's breakthrough novel, giving him the audience his work deserves. Recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011