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Review: The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line, a business thriller by British author John Harman, was originally published in 1991 and recently re-released as an e-book. Of ten Kindle reviewers, seven gave it five stars. This is admittedly a small sample size, but I will add my review to the hat and give it three.

The theme of The Bottom Line is hijacked from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, namely, unrestrained ambition and hubris lead inevitably to failure and ignominy.

The Bottom Line by John HarmanRichard Hoecheck is a hard-driving, psychopathic CEO “who will stop at nothing to achieve his bottom line.” Two of his minions—the beautiful financial executive Madelene Weybourne, and the creative, conflicted, and reckless Tony Oldbidge, who are surreptitiously having an affair—are inadvertent, willing codependents of Hoecheck. They facilitate his schemes to amass assets under the umbrella of his large conglomerate, an investment staple of many middleclass and wealthy families. Hoecheck is achieving high shareholder value through nefarious means (including insider trading, blackmail, and murder) but Madelene and Tony are initially exhilarated by the job’s frenetic wheeling and dealing. As they gradually become aware of the criminal roots of their boss’s empire, they conspire to bring him down.

The novel is well written. Harmon’s development of both the major and minor characters is excellent. The backstories he creates for the characters along with the detail with which he paints their physical characteristics, tics, and idiosyncrasies bring them to life. His dissection of the various characters’ personalities to reveal the extent to which they are motivated by greed is truly masterful.

This otherwise excellent novel has four weaknesses, none of which should discourage a potential reader:

  1. The manner in which some of the major conflicts are resolved, as well as the dénouement, became apparent when I was only about a third of the way into the novel. As a result, the suspense was dissipated and much of my motivation for completing the novel is lost.
  2. One particular characteristic of Harmon’s style creates an interruption of the fictive dream. This is the grinding detail with which he describes the routes the characters take to get from where they are to where they want to be. If you are not familiar with the streets of London or the geography of England, these passages will be both useless and frustrating; I suggest you skip them.
  3. Late in the novel, when Tony is conspiring to rain on Hoecheck’s parade, he realizes that Hoecheck is on to him. Nevertheless, he continues to take reckless chances, acting as if he is bulletproof—which is not the behavior the reader would expect and is simply not plausible.
  4. Finally, I found the novel too long for the scope and complexity story being told. I think it would have packed a greater punch if it were about a third shorter.

An Exceptional Insight Into the Career of a Businessman


In the early 1970s I was struggling to keep alive the high-tech company I had founded in 1964. I also saw for the first time Save the Tiger, a film based on Steve Shagan’s novel of the same name, and immediately knew that I had discovered a soul mate—someone who had challenges and experiences similar to my own. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, who ultimately won an Oscar for his role as Harry Stoner, the struggling CEO of a manufacturer of women’s clothes.

save-the-tigerHaving survived for fifteen years, Harry and his partner Phil, an accountant, are in the final stages of bringing out a new line women’s dresses, and desperately need financing. They don’t have enough collateral to get the bank financing they need, so they are exploring other alternatives, including torching a warehouse that they own for the insurance proceeds. In addition to his financial challenges, preserving this “house of cards” requires him to (1) mediate the conflict between his creative designer, Rico, and his old Russian cutter, Meyer; (2) coordinate the liaison between a large buyer who expects to be “serviced,” and the prostitute he has on retainer; (3) cope with recurring PTSD episodes resulting from combat in World War II; and (4) prepare for the IRS’s audit of books that they both know have been cooked.

For me, what most impressed me about the story is the extent to which Shagan’s portrait of Harry Stoner is the small businessperson archetype, a character determined to keep a company alive at all costs, despite continual harassment. Driven to succeed, this character gets up every day, shoulders the responsibilities of the entire enterprise, and has to choose the “least worst” option from among unattractive alternatives. He or she dreams of the deal or season that will pay off and fund retirement, travel, and an easier life of charitable activities. Yet Harry knows that any hope of retirement is a fantasy.

One of my favorite scenes is the one that resonates with me most strongly. Here, at a meeting with Harry to resolve his conflicts with Rico, Meyer offers to resign:

Harry loosened his tie and unbuttoned his top button, “I don’t want you out.”

The old man moved around the table. “What do you want, Harry? Come on, tell me. I’m an old stone, I don’t talk. Tell me. What is it you want?”

Harry leaned over and picked up a small square of black faille. He thought about the old man’s question, looked up at the neon tubing and said, “More.”

“You mean money?”

“No . . .”


“Another season.”

The old man smiled. “And that’s everything? Another season?

“That’s right. It is. The average life in this business is seven months. We’ve survived for fifteen years—that’s something. Godammit, it’s everything.”

It’s eerie; I can remember making very similar statements on a number of occasions.

What makes Save the Tiger such a good read is:

  1. The characters are well drawn, especially Harry, Phil, Meyer, and Margo (the prostitute Harry has on retainer). Their actions are plausible.
  2. The setting—the Los Angles Garment District, Hollywood and Beverly Hills—is vividly described. You are there!
  3. The plot is very well developed. It grabs hold of you and won’t let you go.
  4. The story will evoke a feeling of recognition in any businessperson who reads it. You can’t help identifying with Harry.

For these reasons, Save the Tiger is an example of outstanding business fiction. I strongly recommend it.

Review: Love & Money

Love and MoneySince starting The Business Fiction Blog, I have made it a point to visit Powell’s City of Books on Burnside in Portland at least once a month, in order to search for Business Fiction Thrillers. Powell’s stacks their Thrillers in aisles 320 and 321, which consists of 48 four-foot shelves. Several very prolific authors dominate.

Robert Ludlum has four shelves, Tom Clancy – two and a half, John LeCarre and Ken Follett each have two. Michael Crichton has a few scattered in his shelf, (Disclosure, Mainframe); Joseph Finder (Paranoia, Company Man) and Steven W. Frey (Takeover, Day Trader) each have half a shelf. Many of the Thrillers are in the sub-genres of spies, military, politics and so on. Business Fiction Thrillers are in short supply.

It was on one of these monthly excursions that I discovered Love & Money. After I was halfway into it, I concluded that the novel was either improperly categorized by Powell’s reviewers, or perhaps it was dumped into the section by a customer who simply forgot  where it was originally located.

Michael M. Thomas’ Love & Money is very much about show business, the  marriage business and the legal business. As explained on the back cover, the media empire at risk in this novel–worth a billion dollars and thousands of jobs–all rests on the back of a TV star, Constance Grange.

Essentially what’s happening in Love & Money is that Grange, like many stars, promotes a large range of products. She is “America’s Mom.” Her character is very wholesome and relatable–everyone loves her. Connie’s business contract is somewhat dependent on her marriage contract. Her value as a brand is tied to her role as a wife and mother. The  contract includes a clause promising that she “will not engage in acts of moral turpitude or commit any act or thing that will tend to degrade her reputation.”  So, of course, the first thing she does in the novel is have an affair.

Connie’s husband,  the cuckold Clifford, was once a up-and-coming director, but has now found himself on “the permanent Hollywood shit list,” after failing to gracefully handle criticisms of his last film – which was an expensive flop.

Love & Money is split into two parts. In part one, everyone engages in risky and behavior and questionable decision making that jeopardizes their respective financial situations, i.e. having an affair, confiding in your employer about your affair and playing private detective to capture video evidence of said affair. You get the idea.

In part two, Clifford’s lawyer, Jekyll, manages to manipulate Clifford into agreeing toe be the “Doe” in a lawsuit. Jekyll wants to bring to challenge a change in the divorce laws in their home state, which (very theoretically) could enable Clifford  to extract a huge settlement from Constance or her employer.

In order to buy into the plot, the reader needs to believe that a) Jekyll, a highly successful divorce lawyer, would forgo hundreds of hours of lucrative billing for the “privilege” of potentially arguing a case before the Supreme Court, b) that Clifford would allow himself to be Doe in a high profile case, notwithstanding he is paranoid over the possibility that he (and Constance) might  be “outed” by a reporter, and  c) that Clifford, who harbors very strong impulses of revenge against Connie, and is desperately seeking financing to get back into the movie game, would ignore the potential of a proposed $100 million-plus settlement from Constance’s employer.

If you are able to continue to suspend your disbelief, not withstanding the plausibility issues identified above, and plough through to the end, you may achieve some level of satisfaction, which will be largely due to the author’s wit, writing ability and wide range of knowledge. I could not detect much of the suspense that one expects in a “thriller” and I found all the characters lacking in passion. They simply do not appear to care that much about what is happening around them.

In summary, Love & Money is a well-written, erudite, “drawing room comedy” that is much more reflective of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest than a current Business Thriller.

Review: Constructed

Constructed is a tongue-in-cheek romantic thriller about Sophie Berg, a Danish girlfriend of a South African gangster who is returning to Copenhagen to shake off her criminal ties and improve her social status. Stensure, a Danish social media company, publishes the social status metric she relies on. The conceit of the novel is that the social status of individuals, and of businesses, can be quantified, profitably marketed and will ultimately drive the behavior of subscribers.

Upon her arrival in Copenhagen, Sophie picks up a young man in a café who turns out to be the son of Stensure’s CEO, Steen Sand. They develop a romantic relationship. Shortly after Sophie’s gangster boyfriend arrives in Copenhagen, one of his thugs murders Steen’s son. Thereafter the trials and tribulations of Stensure, Steen and Sophie become entangled.

The senior management of Stensure consists of Steen and three other executives. They are the competent, hardworking and loyal executives one would expect to find in an emerging company. Mosfeldt’s keen insights into the challenges posed by a technology-based emerging business are demonstrated beautifully through the realistic handling of Stensure’s own critical issues: maintaining growth, coping with negative cash flow, dealing with recalcitrant bankers and reducing the workforce to conserve cash.

Meanwhile, Sophie’s character is well-drawn. Her motivations, fears, weaknesses, social and seductive capabilities are vividly illustrated. She is a sociopath who possesses excellent skills in deception and betrayal. Nonetheless, she briefly exhibits passion, guilt and remorse when she reveals to Steen her role in the death of his son and is willing to place herself at risk in order to wreak vengeance on her gangster lover. It is left up to the reader to discern whether Sophie is displaying genuine passion or simply playing a role in order to inveigle her way into Steen’s good graces in order to position herself for a job.

My only minor complaint is that Mosfeldt occasionally relies on Dicksonian coincidences to drive the plot. For example, when Sophie arrives in Copenhagen she needs legal help to set up a safe house for her gangster lover. The young man she selects at random and picks up turns out to be a lawyer having exactly the skills she needs to accomplish her objectives and he is happy to help her. Although I found the coincidence jarring, the pull of the story quickly overcame my critical propensities, and I immersed myself in the drama of the characters.

Final thoughts:  The plot is clever, and the style in which the story is told reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, North by Northwest–I enjoyed it thoroughly.


Review: Sweet Talking Money

Harry Bingham’s “Sweet Talking Money“ (published by Severn House in 2001) garnered three customer reviews on Amazon with headlines such as “Fabulous ‘Must Read’ Thriller” and “Masterpiece of a Financial Adventure.” After forcing myself to complete the 437-page tome, I concluded that the three reviews are an excellent example of “reviewer hyperbole.” The novel is certainly no masterpiece and contains too much farce to be mistaken for a thriller.51MXNM5472L._SY346_

The set-up and the concept are excellent: A young scientist, Cameron, is working on immunology technology, the object of which is to program the body cells to fight disease, thus obviating the need for pills, shots, chemotherapy, radiation, etc. A financier, Bryn, sees the potential for this technology and persuades her to go into business with him. Their aim: to build a company, the Fulham Clinic, that, in addition to being worth billions of dollars (Bryn’s objective), will revolutionize the practice of medicine (Cameron’s objective). Their obstacles and sources of conflict: i) a large pharmaceutical company, Corinth, which is determined to protect its market, ii) an unscrupulous financial partner, and (iii) the frequent clashing of their objectives.

This is all set out in the first sixty pages of the (hardbound) edition.

But, here are a few of the incidents and plot twists that disturbed my fictive dream.

1) In the early stage of their business relationship, Bryn lies to Cameron when he tells her that she needs to assign all of her intellectual property rights to the company (which Bryn initially owns) for “insurance purposes.” And, it is a stretch to believe that a mature scientist such as Cameron would be so gullible as to fall for Bryn’s lie.

2) In order to identify a list of investors to whom to pitch the company, Bryn hires a teenage computer whiz, Mungo, to hack his former employer’s computer. Bryn seems to have no compunction about the illegality of the action, the risk to his career and the enterprise, nor the ethics. Also, it is difficult to understand why a seasoned investment banker would not have a large network of potential investors he could access rather than resorting to hacking.

3) In the process of negotiating the loan agreement with the unscrupulous Altmeyer, both he and Cameron are concerned about a certain clause that Altmeyer inserted, which, under certain circumstances (which are beyond the control of either Bryn on Cameron), gives Altmeyer the right to call the loan and take over the company.

Although they are both concerned about the clause, they decide not to challenge it – for reasons that are not explained. In effect, both Bryn and Cameron allow Altmeyer to set a time bomb, which – no surprise here  – goes off about fifty pages later causing a crisis.

4) In an effort to defend themselves from Altmeyer’s plan to take over the Fullham Clinic, Bryn and Cameron decide to break into Altmeyer’s company, steal whatever technology they can and free all the laboratory animals (which Altmeyer does not treat humanely anyway). The burglary team includes Bryn, Cameron, Bryn’s brother–Dai, Mungo, Bryn’s assistant–Meg, and Cameron’s assistant–Kati. No one seems to have a problem about committing a felony or worries too much about the consequences of getting caught. The icing on the cake occurs when Meg seduces one of the guards, Degsy, and quickly converts him to their cause; and, subsequent to the burglary – which to no one’s surprise is successful–Degsey becomes a spy for Bryn and Cameron.

I could go on and on – but you get the point.

Finally, I found it very difficult to like either of the main characters. Bryn is a liar and a thief. Although he shows great affection and caring towards his parents, his integrity appears to be limited to the geography of the family farm. And Cameron, notwithstanding her lack of social sophistication and feminine skills, has no compunction about hacking into computers, participating in a burglary, and manipulating her new boyfriend to help her deceive a company he would like to work for. To paraphrase Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront,” ‘It coulda been a great novel.” Unfortunately, it’s not!




Is it Plausible?

To write a business novel, one first needs to learn how to write fiction.  Fiction, the description of imaginary events, is conveyed by the use of dramatic writing. Dramatic writing tells a story in a particular way:

  1. Conflicts: a character faces one or more problems that must resolved.
  2. The events that occur don’t “just happen.” They happen for reasons that are created by the characters, the circumstances and the environment.
  3. The events must occur logically; e.g. one event follows organically from preceding events. That is, “something happens in a story because of the things that happened before, and only as a logical outgrown of those events” (Buentello, 2010).

The third requirement is essential because that is the only way a writer can insure that the reader continues to “willingly suspend his or her disbelief.” Namely, to immerse himself in a “fictive dream.”

The reader knows intellectually that what he is reading is the product of the author’s imagination; nevertheless, he is motivated to immerse himself in a compelling story and continue to read.

The author wants three things from the reader:

  1. To pick up the book and start to read.
  2. To continue to turn pages.
  3. To keep “dreaming.”

The author’s most important objective is to avoid writing anything in the novel that will interrupt the reader’s dream and cause him to stop suspending his disbelief. If the reader awakes from the dream he may:

  1. Put the book down and read no further.
  2. Write a one star review and post it on Amazon or Goodreads.
  3. Resolve never to read another novel by the author.

So, what kind of writing might cause a reader to awaken from the fictive dream?

Hear are a few:

  1. A character that is not suffering from extreme stress, (which could cloud his/her thinking), acts in a manner that does not reflect the character’s experience, physiology, and psychology that has been painted by the author. The character’s actions are simply not plausible!
  2. An event does not follow logically from a prior event.
  3. The author employs a Dickensonian coincidence to resolve a conflict.
  4. The author employs a deus ex machina device—a god-like character that suddenly appears to resolve a conflict.
  5. The author resolves a conflict in a manner that doesn’t make sense—it is not plausible.


Here is an example from The Boss by Stanley Pottinger, published by St. Martin’s Press:

In an otherwise well-written novel about the oil industry, the author stumbles at a critical juncture in the story. The Gatsbyesque antagonist, Spin Patterson, with the assistance of the chief scientist, (Joe) is involved in a fraud to pump up the company’s stock so that he can sell at the crest. They are alone an oil rig in the gulf, working to further their fraud, when a hurricane strikes. The wind and the flying debris are battering them, when Joe is blown overboard. But he manages to grab on to a safety cable. Spin starts to pull him back onto the platform, when he suddenly remembers a conversation he had with Joe and has an epiphany: Joe may no longer be willing to go along with the fraud—and will probably go to the cops. So, he uses a wrench to unscrew the safety cable from the platform and lets Joe tumble into the raging sea.

In the next scene, Spin’s mistress, Tacoma Reed, a beautiful well-educated lawyer who is the Chief Counsel for the company, visits Spin in the hospital. He whispers to her that she needs to check the video from the cameras on the rig that transmit to tape cassettes located in his office. He is concerned that the cameras have recorded Joe’s murder. She goes to the office, looks at the tape, observes Spin with a wrench working on the safety cable, removes the tape, goes back to the hospital, and destroys the tape as the antagonist looks on.

So, is it plausible for Tacoma, a smart, well-educated lawyer, in the employ of a public company, to destroy of evidence of a serious crime and place herself in jeopardy–all to please her lover, Spin Patterson, who may in fact be a murderer? She could be disbarred. She could be arrested, tried and convicted of obstruction of justice. She could go to prison for a long time. How could she possibly decide that her lover, a possible murderer, is worth risking her future?

This scene occurs about halfway through a 300+ page novel. After I read it, I closed the book and was about to throw it across the room when I remembered that it was a library book.

The author did not merely awaken me from the dream—he shattered it.


Buentello, L. (2010). A concise guide to writing fiction. Retrieved from