Tag Archives: business thriller

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.

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.


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 http://www.lawrencebuentello.com/