I had lots of interesting reactions to BLACK FRIDAYS, Michael Sears’ debut novel. It would be easy to call the book a financial thriller, mostly because that’s precisely what it is. At its heart, it’s about moving mind-numbing amounts of money from Point A to Point B, with some of it going astray and occasionally even getting caught with one’s hand in the world’s largest cookie jar. It’s much more than a financial thriller, though. It’s about theft, deception and dishonesty, but also about love and redemption and what is ultimately important at the end of the day, when the dust settles and the smoke clears. And it’s those latter qualities that make the book worth reading.
"It’s about theft, deception and dishonesty, but also about love and redemption and what is ultimately important at the end of the day, when the dust settles and the smoke clears. And it’s those latter qualities that make the book worth reading."
BLACK FRIDAYS is told in the voice of Jason Stafford, a Wall Street wunderkind who flew too close to the sun and whose resultant fall from grace cost him everything. The account that details Stafford’s career derailment is frightening; what starts off as a mistake becomes a deliberate omission intended to be corrected later that is compounded instead. Before Stafford has time to catch his breath, he is being perp-walked into the courthouse and sentenced to two years in prison. Among the casualties of his actions are his job, his fortune, and wife Angie and son Jason Jr., aka The Kid. One can get a job and money back if you lose them; that’s not a big deal, ultimately. In this particular case, losing the wife is probably a hidden blessing for Stafford; his son, not so much. Jason really loves his son, as is demonstrated time and again here, and will do anything to get The Kid back. Considering that Jason Jr. is autistic and not the easiest five-year-old on the block to manage says quite a bit about dad, no matter how one feels about what he’s done professionally.
But before he can do anything about it, Jason, who has been newly released from prison, needs an income. For that, he needs a job. Which seems to be an insurmountable problem, until an investment firm hires him to look into a potential mess that a junior trader left behind in the wake of what looks like an unfortunate accident. At first, Jason can’t find much of anything. Then he finds some things, but they don’t look like much of a deal. Once Jason digs a little deeper, he finds that the trader may have been involved in some things far more risky and illegal than they appeared to be at first glance. And maybe, just maybe, that accident wasn’t an accident after all. Jason notices that two dangerous-looking guys are following him. During the course of this, he gets his son back, enrolls him in a special school, and meets a promising young lady who sees things in him that Jason doesn’t see in himself.
Then things start going badly. Jason’s ex, who can barely take care of herself, wants their son back. Those dangerous guys start threatening Jack, though not in the way you might think. And then things get worse. Jason is used to broken field maneuvering, but what he’s facing may exceed even his considerable talents. And, if he isn’t careful, he might find himself back in prison.
Those interesting reactions I mentioned up there? They all centered on Jason and The Kid. I initially was so fixated on the book’s financial aspects that the interludes involving Jason and The Kid were…distractions. Initially. Somewhere around the middle of the novel, however, my focus shifted. Jason’s relationship with his son, and how they dealt with such things as restaurant meltdowns, lobby tile patterns, and automobiles became much more interesting than moving huge cups of money off shore or out of pocket. It actually became the most important thing that existed between the covers of the book. That takes talent, and it appears that Sears has that in great quantities.
I’ll look forward to seeing what he does with it in the future, but for the time being, BLACK FRIDAYS is a memorable debut.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 21, 2012