"The computer beeped softly, indicating the arrival of a new e-mail. [He] rose from the bed, sat down behind the desk, and clicked the icon. He didn't recognize the sender's address, but scrolled down and began reading anyway.
Update on Project Delphi … we've got a problem. They're pumping up earnings per share with the phantom income from headquarters … there are insider dealings with the board and the senior execs. If all this gets out, the stock tanks and people lose a ton of jingle-juice. We'd be hauled up in front of Congress … [oh and] the Minneapolis operation is way out of hand. So far the Washington office hasn't gotten dragged into what's going on out there in corporate America … but Delphi could be the one that screws us.
What do you want me to do?
Before he can decide what to do about this misrouted message, Liz asks him to run out and get her some cigarettes. He has been having an affair with her, even though she claims to be engaged to another man; she wears a three-carat ring on her left hand and is able to twist him around her finger. Yet, he doesn't completely trust her … he knows she is manipulative and wonders why she doesn't break it off with her fiancée, since she claims to love him.
When he gets back to his apartment, "the door [is] ajar … hepushed it open, and his pulse spiked. The apartment had been destroyed. His computer was on the floor … hard drive removed." What happened? Who could or would do this to him? Where was Liz … he spots "something on the far side of the bed. Hescrambled onto the mattress, then froze. Liz lay sprawled on her back in the corner of the room near the desk, her neck and chest a spattered mess. As his fingers touched her still warm skin, heheard something over his shoulder and spun around. A man stood in the middle of the room, staring at him" … a gun at the ready.He "lunged for the window and tumbled onto the fire escape … just as gunshots crackled in his ear."
"He" is Conner Ashby, a young, eager and very ambitious man. He works for Gavin Smith, an investment banker who owns Phenix Capitol. "The old man was the nearest thing to a father he's had in a long time. And Gavin was paying him $175,000 a year plus bonus." Thus, when Gavin said, "jump," Conner asked "how high?" Under Gavin's wing, Conner feels that his career is cemented and his personal wealth guaranteed.
Paul Stone also works closely with Gavin. He has a secret agenda that necessitates ruining Conner any way he can. Conner is very aware of Paul's hatred toward him, but it all comes to a head at Gavin's house one night when Conner accuses Paul of breaking into his computer, and Gavin tells him: "Right off the bat there are problems, pal … there are lots [of] mistakes … throughout the presentation. Paul printed out two copies and brought them [to me."] Conner knows that Paul "inputted the typos before he printed it out … to make [him] look bad." He is furious and appalled, and can't believe that Gavin is on Paul's side.
"Lucas Avery was loyal to the president only by extension. His passion was chess, [he was] a grinder, who methodically forced his opponents into a corner. Then and only then did he attack. Lucas had followed the same kind of long-term strategy in his career." He was patient "until he saw an opening, then acting decisively when the opportunity presented itself." Now, "after two … Congressional staff tours and an administrative management position at party headquarters, Lucas had come to the West Wing to serve as deputy assistant political director to the president." Blinded by his ambition and unrealistic goals, he is duped into a scheme that is supposed to change the course of American history but it puts his life in danger.
Stephen Frey is a consummate writer of financial thrillers. And in SHADOW ACCOUNT he reaches beyond anything he has composed yet. The reader is hooked after the first few paragraphs and may be astounded at the level of suspense that builds and is sustained throughout this timely peek into how corrupt investment bankers work; how a traitorous Vice President of the United States can turn against the powers who put him in office; and a glimpse of people who will do anything to fill their need for power and feed their greed.
Fans of Frey expect him to offer them the same kind of thrills they would find on a roller coaster. His ability to mix red herrings with real clues is a challenge to those who enjoy solving the mystery at the heart of all of his books. For those who want to just go along with him for the ride, he ties up all of the loose ends at the end of his stories regardless of how complicated the plot may be. Frey's writing style is easy to read and his ear for dialogue is pitch perfect. SHADOW ACCOUNT is a good, fast read that shines a light onto the financial and political secrets we see everyday in the national news.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 23, 2011