It seems that whenever I need a good dose of reality, a fix on How
The World Works, a new book from Stephen Frey arrives. Frey writes
financial potboilers --- and I use that term lovingly, as a
compliment --- that, taken together, pull the curtain back and
reveal the wizards who move around great, even staggering, amounts
of money and incidentally exercise great influence over…well,
everything. Ever wonder why that highly touted mutual fund you
bought into suddenly tanked without any warning at all? Or why that
retail planning group that was flying so high suddenly disappeared?
The answer is probably in one of Frey's novels, if you look hard
enough and do a bit of extrapolation.
Frey is an absolute marvel at explaining the ins and outs of money
to those of us who have trouble making change, and he is in top
form in THE CHAIRMAN, his latest novel. The chairman is Christian
Gillette, who finds himself heading Everest Capital --- one of the
world's largest private equity partnerships --- upon the untimely,
suspicious death of William Donovan. (If you don't know what a
"private equity partnership" is, don't worry; Frey describes what
it is, and his explanation is so interesting that your eyes won't
glaze over once.) Gillette is driven, calculating, and not
especially likable; it is still a surprise, however, when attempts
are made on his life before Donovan is even in the ground.
Gillette, ever a broken field runner, is unfazed. He will do
whatever it takes to make Everest the biggest equity partnership in
the world --- and he will do it with the same aggressiveness and
ruthlessness that he has utilized throughout his entire career. The
major problem that faces Gillette is that in order to achieve his
goal he will have to trust someone, in an industry where trust is a
weakness. There is more treachery and duplicity in THE CHAIRMAN
than you will find in your average espionage novel, but then, the
stakes are higher. Gillette has the opportunity to acquire billions
of dollars --- and to control even more.
Frey continues his tradition of making the complex and unfamiliar
understandable and commonplace. Intricately plotted, with
unforgettable characters and innumerable twists and turns, THE
CHAIRMAN is a winner.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 26, 2010