Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Silent Oligarch by Chris Morgan Jones - Book Review

Now that the cold war has been over for more than two decades and Islamo-fascism has become the boogie man for right wing conspiracy theorists, the world domination business thriller has come to the fore. Chris Morgan Jones's engaging TheSilent Oligarch provides a superior view into this world within a fast-paced page turner taking the reader into the world of big oil, tax sheltered Caribbean islands and European bankers all dominated by Russian oil and the oligarchic replacements for Soviet dictators. What fun! Where once we could luxuriate in John Le Carré's discursive dark world of the international spy game, we can now dig deeply into the unfathomable wealth and endless ambition of those who would dominate the world without notice through the world of business. This novel should be particularly attractive to people who've watched the Koch brothers and Sheldon Ableson seek to steal our upcoming election.

The Silent Oligarch can best be characterized as a business competition procedural. Lest some reader say, “Oh, No! I don't want to read about endless contracts and details of trading,” never fear. This very good first novel keeps its eye on character and relationships of the people engaged in seeking to dominate world commerce or root out the evil doers to make the world a more open and honest place. It seems that Aristotle Tourna, a shadowy Greek oil magnate, has decided to sue Konstantin Malin, a seemingly obscure bureaucrat in the Russian Ministry of Energy for cheating him in a large deal, and through the suit to bring down Malin's well-hidden international empire. But never fear. The book is about two men engaged in a struggle, perhaps to the death, to discover and maintain their humanity while caught in a web of international intrigue where lives mean less than dollars. By focusing on character and allowing the action to happen, often in surprising ways, Jones has created both a picture of a dark, unknowable world and two interesting people worth caring about.

Richard Lock is a Scottish former lawyer working for Malin's oil and other business interests as the paper head of all Malin's world-wide corporate entities, mostly serving as covers for the movement of money to a well-disguised and untraceable destination. Ben Webster is a former international journalist who serves as a chief investigator for a consulting company called Ikertu, a company which conducts investigations for corporations while seeking to achieve “good” results. The story becomes a high-tech chase through European capitals, Caribbean island nations specializing in tax avoidance and secrecy, and the vast, faceless bureaucracy of the Russian state that's supplanted the Soviet Union while maintaining many of its characteristics. From the warm beaches of Monaco to the chill streets of Moscow, Berlin, and London, the story maintains its attention on the two men fronting the battle between forces much bigger than they are. Both Lock and Webster have families living in London they hope to maintain. Lock, separated from his wife Marina and daughter, also enjoys an “arrangement” with the beautiful and somewhat mysterious Oksana in places like Monaco. Webster goes off to work leaving his wife and two lovely children at home each day as he enters into his own shadowy world. As the forces arrayed against each other, Webster and Lock become irrevocably attached to each other. The tension rises to a high pitch with enough plot twists and character development to keep any lover of crime fiction engaged. 

Chris Morgan Jones
According to the bio on his web site, Chris Morgan Jones, an Englishman, attended St. Catherine's College, Oxford where he studied English Language and literature. He worked for more than ten years at a corporation called Kroll, the world's largest investigator, where he specialized in Russian projects and resolving “complex disputes.” He lives in London with his wife and children. All this suggests he writes about a world with which he's intimately familiar. Details within the book suggest this is accurate. For instance, the characters constantly take the batteries out of their cell phones to make it impossible to trace their whereabouts or listen in on their conversations, while a vast network of operatives on both sides of the conflict work to thwart their desire for secrecy. The Silent Oligarch was previously published in England as Agent of Deceit where it was well-received, recognized as a first-rate first novel.

Jones is quite good at mixing scene setting descriptive passages with action filled events in the context of human character development. He's very strong at developing a sense of place which comes to envelop the situations his characters find themselves in. I would have preferred fewer names to try to follow, but this is a small quibble that Jones will overcome as his future work pares down his plots to fewer essentials. Beyond that, he has produced a most satisfying read, capturing a fascinating world most of us will only ever experience in fiction while creating a desire for the next book. The SilentOligarch by Chris Morgan Jones is published by Penguin Press in the U.S. (2012). It is 312 widely spaced pages long and retails for $25.95. It's available from Amazon in all formats and from all the usual sources. You can order it through the Amazon portals on my site to help support the site. The book was provided to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours.

 Other Stops on "Silent Oligarch" Book Tour
Tuesday, January 17th: Jen’s Book Thoughts
Thursday, January 19th: Man of La Book
Friday, January 20th: My Two Blessings
Saturday, January 28th: Mysteries and My Musings – review
Monday, January 30th: Mysteries and My Musings - about the author
Wednesday, February 1st: Life in Review
Thursday, February 9th: Mrs. Q: Book Addict
Monday, February 13th: Walking With Nora
Tuesday, February 14th: The Year in Books
Wednesday, February 15th: Mary’s Cup of Tea
Thursday, February 16th: nomadreader