Mon
May 20 2013 9:30am

Fresh Meat: Graveland by Alan Glynn

Graveland by Alan Glynn is a thriller set in the world of Wall Street high finance (available May 28, 2013).

Set in the here and now, Graveland is very much a book of its time. It centers on the current financial crisis—and much of the action takes place in and around Wall Street.

The story begins as the CEO of a top Wall Street investment bank is gunned down while jogging in Central Park, and this death is soon followed by another, when a highly successful hedge fund manager is shot and killed outside a glitzy Upper West Side restaurant. Were the pair chosen as orchestrated terrorist targets or is plain old coincidence to blame? Investigative journalist Ellen Dorsey has an entirely different theory—and her search for the truth will take her into some decidedly murky waters.

After focusing on a world in which conspicuous wealth is the norm, Alan Glynn offers the reader a clear view of the have-nots. Frank Bishop is a former architect, reduced to working in an off-the-beaten-track shopping mall to make ends meet after he was made redundant. Frank is at the end of his tether and holding on to his dead-end job by a whisker. To add to his woes, Frank’s daughter Lizzy  is acting strangely, and when she disappears off the radar entirely he is mightily worried.

A chance meeting throws Frank and Ellen together, and their pooled knowledge brings the pair to some pretty toxic conclusions. One thing is certain: blood will be shed before this book reaches its finale.

I loved the to-ing and fro-ing between financial worlds: one in which money is no object, the other in which living is a day to day slog. Frank is a prime example of the underdog mentality and his musings will strike a nerve with anyone who has suffered during the recession.

Frank is happy to have the job. There’s no question about that. At forty-eight, and in the current climate, he could just as easily have landed on the scrap heap. There are days when this certainly feels like the scrap heap, but most of the time he just gets on with it.

He has bills to pay.

It’s as simple as that, his life reduced to a monthly sequence of electronic bank transfers.

College fees, allowances, rent, utilities, car, food. Fuck. Close his eyes for a second and Frank can be right back before any of this got started, twenty-five, thirty years ago—a different world, and one in which this degree of a financial straitjacket was something he only ever associated with his parents, with that whole generation.

It wasn’t going to happen to him, though. Not a chance.

But then who paid for him to go to college? Exactly. And arrogant little prick that he was, he took every bit of it for granted, never once imagining, for example, that his old man might have had other things he could be doing besides working his ass off holding down two jobs he more or less hated.

One of which, ironically, was not unlike this one.

Frank exhales loudly, no one around to hear him, and reaches down for another carton.

He carries it into the stockroom and adds it to the pile by the main door.

Back then, as well, it was all about possibilities opening up—relationships, career moves, the world. Now it’s the opposite, possibilities are closing down all around him. The world? Forget about it. Career moves? He’s lucky to have this job, and there aren’t any others out there waiting for him. As for relationships, well . . . unless it’s paid for or virtual, that ship’s sailed.

Frank exhales again, even louder this time. Is there anything less attractive than self-pity?

At the other end of the spectrum is the enigmatic James Vaughan, an old man who still pulls the strings at the helm of one of the world’s biggest financial institutions. There’s something decidedly creepy about Vaughan, who is a cross between Hannibal Lecter and Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. He is old and tired, but tongues begin to wag when he suddenly gets a new lease of life, thanks to a forbidden drug that he’s got his hands on. He thinks he’s on the up again—but as we all know, pride comes before a fall...

He was warned about possible side effects. Then he was told that the formula required a buildup in the system and not to expect any results for at least a week. But when nothing had happened after two, and with his general condition deteriorating rapidly, Vaughan sort of resigned himself to the inevitable and triggered the succession process with Howley.

And then, go figure, the medication kicked in.

Originally given enough for a month, he now has less than a week’s supply left.

Which is an issue he’ll have to address very soon.

Vaughan wanders out of the library. He went in there to take a quick nap. Normally at this time of the day, after lunch, he’ll go to bed for at least an hour and sleep soundly. He’ll then spend another hour fighting grogginess and trying to reconstitute himself so he can function for the remainder of the day. Recently, though, he’s finding that ten minutes in an armchair is all he needs, and that no recovery time is required either.

The only problem now—given that he’s officially, ironic air quotes, retired—is that he doesn’t have anything to do. As he moves along the floor of the hallway, with its mother-of-pearl-encrusted black marble tiles, he taps out a quick, slightly giddy soft-shoe shuffle. He’ll have to see about that, though, won’t he?

If Glynn set out to write a parable for the modern man (and woman), then I think he succeeded admirably, because this is a book that certainly gets you thinking.

Overall, I’d call Graveland a slow burner, because it doesn’t really get up to speed until about halfway through. It helps if you have some knowledge of the labyrinthine ways of today’s financial institutions. I don’t, so at times I felt at a bit of a disadvantage. You certainly need to persevere if you want to see some of the loose ends neatly tied off.

See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

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Sandra Mangan recently moved to Blackpool, a seaside resort in the north west of England, to a new home that is definitely a work in progress. She is an avid reader, with crime fiction at the top of her wish list—though an occasional Nora Roberts manages to creep onto the bookshelf. You can also follow her on Twitter as @OfTheTimesShop

Read all posts by Sandra Mangan for Criminal Element.

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