Category Archives: Review

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!