Bobby Astor seems to have it all. The founder of a wildly successful hedge fund operation, he is known as “the Prince of Risk” and fits the role to a T, whether speculating financially in ways that make other men blanche or diving from a chimney into a swimming pool to raise extra dollars for charity.
The cracks in Astor’s life only show if you dig. The whiz kid who predicted 1987’s Black Monday crash when he was just a teen has a fresh divorce under his belt (his formidable ex, Alex Forza, is an FBI agent, equally busy with her own career), a 16-year-old daughter he doesn’t see often enough, and — just to round things off — hasn’t spoken to his father in five years.
Little does Astor know, but his life is about to get messier.
THE PRINCE OF RISK
“The Prince of Risk” starts with a bang (yes, literally): a car ferrying the secretary of the Treasury, the head of the New York Stock Exchange, and the Federal Reserve chairman appears to go haywire, barrels across the South Lawn toward the White House, and is blown up by the Secret Service, all its occupants killed.
But before he dies, the NYSE chief, who happens to be Bobby’s estranged father, texts his son: PALANTIR. Suddenly, Bobby Astor has a Jason Bourne-size puzzle on his hands.
Meanwhile, Forza is dealing with her own complicated day at the office when a nosy-neighbor call to the FBI leads to a suburban shootout: a soldier-for-hire with sinister tattoos and enough military supplies for a “shoot and scoot” scenario that recalls the real-world 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.
Christopher Reich’s format is nothing if not formulaic. Bad guys get built up in a manner befitting a James Bond villain, all maniacal evil with a gloating eye on world domination: Though a cat doesn’t figure in, you can practically see a long-haired white feline with a diamond collar being stroked in one particular bad guy’s arms.
We watch as Astor starts to show his nervy heroic colors — it turns out he has as high a tolerance for pain as he does for risk — and Forza defies regulations in order to save the day. And a foreign financial wizard plots: “Each year his country was growing stronger and the rest of the world weaker. It was only the beginning.” Yup. We’ve been here before.
Still, Reich’s writerly pyrotechnics keep things humming along nicely. He’s great with characters’ names — dig the fabulously monikered Septimus Reventlow — and pleasurably adept with a range of cultural references, from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” to television’s “Knight Rider,” even including a tip of the hat to a fellow author (“Who do you think you are” one colleague demands of Astor. “Harry Bosch?”)
Reich skillfully puts us into the world of high-stakes finance, a landscape of “hot money,” “quants,” and “shorting.” And he’s got some enjoyably-compelling characters, like private investigator Michael Grillo, who takes his steak “bleu” and has heard “PALANTIR” before — “He remembered the man who’d mentioned the name. The recollection did little to boost his spirits. A man from the murkiest depths of the secret world” — and Bobby’s straight-talking business partner Marv Shank (“We’re toast. French fried with maple syrup.”)
How, where, when, and why Astor and Forza cross paths on their individual investigations makes for an entertaining read, and Reich is effective enough at shredded-from-the-headlines appropriations of real-life events to beef up this solid financial thriller to a substantively creepy level.
Daneet Steffens is a journalist and book critic. Follow her on Twitter @daneetsteffens.