Many mystery writers have a specialty that they repeat in book after book. Agatha Christie's characters drink countless cups of tea. Patricia Cornwell always provides the goriest details of her autopsies. James Lee Burke perennially offers the most gorgeous descriptions of weather. Christopher Reich's niche is high finance, and although the minutia of making money may seem dull, his ninth novel, "The Prince of Risk," is a textbook example of a page-turner.
He opens with a tensely thrilling seven-page prologue set in Washington, D.C. The secretary of the Treasury, the chairman of the Federal Reserve and the CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, Edward Astor, have made a horrible discovery and are about to wake the president to inform him. They never get the chance, but before Astor dies, he is able to text one word to his estranged son: Palantir.
In 92 bite-size chapters the story quickly moves from place to place, character to character, mainly focusing on Bobby Astor, who is determined to discover the meaning of his father's last cryptic message. Mr. Reich clearly loves Bobby, but readers may reserve judgment. "He had learned to camouflage fear with arrogance, bravado and confrontation," Mr. Reich writes. Bobby owns Comstock Partners, a hedge fund company, and if you don't know what this means, don't worry. Mr. Reich explains it in easy to understand language.
Through Bobby, his friends and enemies, Mr. Reich reveals the luxurious world of the One Percent. Their toys include Aerospatiale helicopters, G-4 jets, a Mercedes-Benz "Sprinter" with Recaro leather lounge chairs and a Ferrari Daytona with Koni shocks. They wear Tom Ford suits, Dior ties, Breguet watches and John Lobb shoes. Homes include a cabin in Aspen, a cattle ranch in Wyoming and a Manhattan penthouse across from the High Line.
Bobby also has an ex-wife, Alex, who is a special agent with the FBI. Although Alex has "brown hair and eyes the color of good whiskey," she is so tough that she's almost a cartoon. Alex jogs nine miles, takes her venti latte with a triple espresso shot, and in her office she prays to a picture of J. Edgar Hoover, whom she calls "Father."
While Alex investigates a suspected cache of illegal weapons, Bobby steals the date book from his dad's office to track his movements in the days before his death. Bobby follows some promising leads until a barefoot monk trained in Baji Kung Fu tries to kill him.
Meanwhile back at the hedge fund, Bobby's associate, Marv Shank, is going crazy because they are facing a margin call and might lose $2 billion on a bet made on the value of the Chinese yuan. But Bobby can't be reached. After falling down an elevator shaft he smashed his smart phone, fearing that the device has been hacked by those trying to prevent him from finding Palantir.
Eventually, Bobby and Alex compare notes. They surmise that the United States is facing an attack similar to what happened in Mumbai, India in 2008. People will be killed in "shoot and scoot" violence, and the economy will be devastated.
Mr. Reich's language is often quite rugged. Bobby had "started out a gecko and grown into Godzilla." For Alex, "work was the disease and the cure." Another character "had a jaw that could break through walls." Where he excels is in plotting and his ability to use finance and technology to create his story. For instance, the fact that China has a $3.5 trillion surplus made from exporting more goods than it imports is a clue to finding the bad guys.
Another clue is in regression analysis when a software program that trends stock market activity notices a common thread in investments. This stuff may be commonplace for Wall Street types, but for mystery readers it makes a fascinating whodunit.
Finally, Mr. Reich throws lots of interesting tidbits into his mix. For instance, the National Security Agency pulls down 20 petabytes of raw data a day from the world's digital traffic. Or, the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo in Canada are a high-tech hub. Who knew? Or, the road leading to the New York Stock Exchange's data center in Mahwah, N.J., is lined with buttonwood trees to commemorate the tree on Wall Street where the first brokers gathered to trade shares in the late 1700s.
Some books make you feel wiser. This isn't one of them. But "The Prince of Risk" will definitely make you feel smarter.
Margie Romero is communications manager at Pittsburgh Public Theater.