You are probably familiar with Nick Santora’s work, if not his name. Santora has labored mightily in the grammar mine for such television crime dramas as “The Sopranos,” “Law & Order” and “Prison Break,” writing scripts for memorable episodes of each and all. FIFTEEN DIGITS, his second novel and first in several years, would be easy to classify as a legal or financial thriller. But it’s also a gritty and streetwise caper novel, a cautionary tale about giving up what you want most for what you want now.
"You will want to fly through FIFTEEN DIGITS, and Santora won’t stop you from doing so. He has a cinematic style of writing that lends itself wonderfully to the printed page, so that the story unwinds by the second."
The birth of FIFTEEN DIGITS takes place in a basement, though not just any basement. It’s the basement of a New York mega law firm named Olmstead & Taft. Rich Mauro is a hard-luck and hard-working guy, a construction worker who gets the chance to trade in his tool belt and hard hat to start at the ground level --- actually, the below-ground level --- with the firm, making his way through law school and, hopefully, a position with the firm. Mauro has the world’s best and oldest reason: he is in love with a woman who feels the same way about him and is much more than he ever could reasonably expect to have. Though far above his station, she loves him for who he is --- and he wants to be more.
Mauro’s first step along that road is taking a job with Olmstead & Taft as a “binder.” Binders are the lowest of the low in the firm hierarchy, looked down on even by the elevator operators. They print, collate, and deliver legal documents, pleadings and the like on demand. His fellow binders include a black kid with a criminal record who is trying to save his brothers and sisters from the same hell hole in which he grew up; the former leader of the toughest Puerto Rican street gang in New York, who is trying to build a life the hard and honest way for himself, his girlfriend and their infant child; and a man who has been shortchanged by fate in every conceivable way from the day he was born, and whose only dream is to go to Disney World. Mauro and the other binders gradually form a work-related friendship forged out of teamwork and common misery.
Everything begins to change, however, when they are offered a Faustian bargain by a firm associate: use the information that they handle every working hour of every day to become rich beyond their wildest dreams. All of the binders have goals that, selfless and otherwise, can be achieved with money, and lots of it. The plan works absolutely splendidly at first. Things begin unraveling, though, not on one but two fronts. Santora flat out warns the reader of this coming turn of events several times, in the first third of the book. He doesn’t really need to; the feeling of impending doom sets in at about the second paragraph of the first page or so. The only issue is how bad it’s going to get. The answer: worse than you can imagine. Don’t get too attached to anyone here.
You will want to fly through FIFTEEN DIGITS, and Santora won’t stop you from doing so. He has a cinematic style of writing that lends itself wonderfully to the printed page, so that the story unwinds by the second. Everyone who reads it will see just a bit of Rich Mauro in themselves, for different reasons, and feel a chill, however momentary. This is a book that stays with the reader long after the final page is read.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 27, 2012