April 19 (Bloomberg) -- It’s December 2007, markets are dancing into a Grand Canyon, and Jimmy Cusack’s lead investor has just uttered the four scariest words in Hedgistan:
“I want my money,” he says.
Norb Vonnegut’s second thriller, “The Gods of Greenwich,” is off to a thumping start.
The demand amounts to financial defenestration for Jimmy, who’s locked into a lease in the Empire State Building and a $3 million mortgage on a condo in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. There goes $120 million -- 85 percent of the money managed by the Irish Catholic kid who left Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to start his own fund.
Jimmy’s troubles are just beginning. As markets flip from mean to life-threatening, he folds the fund, puts on his crooked grin and lands a job with Cyrus Leeser of LeeWell Capital in hedgehog heaven, Greenwich, Connecticut. With his winning streak, hush-hush hedges and shoulder-length black hair, Cy is a legend in the making.
What Jimmy doesn’t know is that Cy has placed a pair of massive wagers -- one betting that shares in an Icelandic bank will plunge, the other assuming that alternative energy company Bentwing (ticker: BEG) will fly. What neither knows is that the Icelanders have wealthy friends in Qatar.
Seductress With Syringe
As the book opens, everyone is hiding something, not least Rachel Whittier, a sultry 27-year-old nurse to a Park Avenue plastic surgeon. She has a mysterious scar on one hand, a Texas twang and a taste for murder -- a seductress with a syringe and no scruples. Has Vonnegut, a former Morgan Stanley wealth manager, written himself into a corner? No chance: The pieces of this plot mesh as smoothly as a well executed trade.
Vonnegut, a distant relation to Kurt Vonnegut Jr., has matured since his debut novel, “Top Producer.” His characters have become less cartoonish -- not as realistic as I would like, yet convincing enough to make me suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride. They arrive in Dickensian quantities, too.
There’s Siggi Stefansson, a Reykjavik art dealer with a craggy face. And Cy’s trophy wife, Bianca Santiago, a best-selling romance novelist with “latte-cream skin.” Jimmy’s daddy-in-law, Caleb Digby Phelps III, is a Harvard man (and Porcellian Club member) who has become a big wheel in New England business.
As in “Top Producer,” Vonnegut uses alpha-dog patter to good effect, as in this warning from LeeWell’s head trader: “Just remember, Cusack. There are two kinds of people in the world. The ones who make money.”
Vonnegut also displays his penchant for over-the-top similes. Sometimes this works, as with the trader who, pigging out a cheeseburger, makes guttural sounds that could be “mistaken for walrus sex.” Elsewhere, you wish his editor had taken a firmer hand. Can Jimmy’s wife Emi, a herpetologist, really “hibernate through heavy metal concerts”?
Emi isn’t deaf, though she does suffer from a disorder that screams “plot point.” She has prosopagnosia, meaning her ability to recognize faces is impaired.
Though the foreshadowing lacks subtlety, the plot keeps you going. In “Top Producer,” the solution became obvious after a few chapters. This time around, the biggest piece of the puzzle remains hidden even as Jimmy hurtles toward the final showdown in a decrepit BMW belching smoke.
“The Gods of Greenwich” is from Minotaur (322 pages, $24.99). To buy this book in North America, click here.
(James Pressley is a book critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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