ABSOLUTE RISK is Steven Gore’s second Graham Gage novel, an extremely ambitious work that undoubtedly will attract much interest and discussion among readers of financial thrillers. If you think that the events of the last several months and the hit to your personal balance sheet have been frightening, Gore provides a scenario that will have you converting your remaining assets to cash, loading up the car with food and water, and heading to the mountains to wait out the coming storm.
This follow-up to FINAL TARGET, Gore’s debut, begins with an FBI agent named Michael Hennessy taking a circuitous route to a clandestine meeting in Marseilles with Federal Reserve Chairman Milton Abrams. Hennessy was behind the arrest and ruin of an MIT finance professor named Hani Ibrahim for his alleged involvement in a terrorist finance conspiracy. Ibrahim, though never convicted of wrongdoing, was deported. Hennessy suspects that Ibrahim may have been framed and has sought a meeting with Abrams in the hope of rectifying the situation. But Hennessy never makes that meeting. He is found dead, the victim of an apparent suicide. Abrams, suspicious of the circumstances and the timing surrounding Hennessy’s demise, retains Graham Gage and his firm to investigate. There are others, though, who are willing to go to any means necessary to keep the case file on Hennessy closed.
Meanwhile, Gage’s wife, Faith, is at great risk in China, where she is working with a group of students on an archaeological dig. An apparent earthquake and its aftermath spark a political revolution in China that not only slowly dovetails into Gage’s investigation, but also threatens to have worldwide economic repercussions in its aftermath that individuals at the highest level of the U.S. government wish to avoid. The result is a frightening and compelling story in which Gage slowly but surely connects the dots between one man’s death in a foreign country and the threat of a devastating failure of the banking system in the United States and beyond.
Gage is a good character with the obvious potential to be a great one. His private investigation agency, to the extent revealed in the first two books, seems to be multi-tentacled, and at some point I’d like to read more about its inner workings to see who is minding the store when Gage is out in the field. The magnitude of his cases indicate that he is hardly running a one-man operation, yet he seems to do it all --- maybe too much to be realistic --- without breaking a sweat.
This leads indirectly to one of two concerns I have with ABSOLUTE RISK. There are times when the novel seems to be the product of a mashup of two or three books that are loosely connected so that it resembles a team of wild horses that Gore occasionally tries to bring to heel. Secondly, too much of the story consists of Gore, through his various characters, grinding political and religious axes in a manner that threatens to alienate over half of his potential readership. His penchant for taking shots that have little or nothing to do with the already complicated plot detracts from the flow of the story, occasionally at crucial points.
If you can get past those passages, however, you’ll find an intriguing plot with enough action, exotic locations and danger to keep you reading, not to mention coming back for the next installment.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010