Sunday 11 December 2016

Thrill of gambling in world of high stakes

'The Gods of Greenwich' Minotaur

James Pressley

Published 19/05/2011 | 05:00

Price €15.99

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IT IS December 2007, markets are dancing into a Grand Canyon, and Jimmy Cusack's lead investor has just uttered the four scariest words in Hedgistan: "I want my money."

Norb Vonnegut's second thriller, 'The Gods of Greenwich', is off to a thumping start.

The demand amounts to financial defenestration for Jimmy, who's locked into a lease in the Empire State Building and a $3m (€2.1m) mortgage on a condo in Manhattan's Meatpacking District.

There goes $120m -- 85pc of the money managed by the Irish Catholic kid who left Goldman Sachs to start his own fund.

Jimmy's troubles are just beginning. As markets flip from mean to life-threatening, he folds the fund, puts on his crooked grin and lands a job with Cyrus Leeser of LeeWell Capital in hedgehog heaven, Greenwich, Connecticut. With his winning streak, hush-hush hedges and shoulder-length black hair, Cy is a legend in the making.

What Jimmy doesn't know is that Cy has placed a pair of massive wagers -- one betting that shares in an Icelandic bank will plunge, the other assuming that alternative energy company Bentwing will fly. What neither knows is that the Icelanders have wealthy friends in Qatar.

As the book opens, everyone is hiding something, not least Rachel Whittier, a sultry 27-year-old nurse to a Park Avenue plastic surgeon. She has a mysterious scar on one hand, a Texas twang and a taste for murder; a seductress with a syringe and no scruples. Has Vonnegut, a former Morgan Stanley wealth manager, written himself into a corner? No chance: the pieces of this plot mesh as smoothly as a well executed trade.

Vonnegut, a distant relation to writer Kurt Vonnegut, has matured since his debut novel 'Top Producer'. His characters have become less cartoonish; not as realistic as I like, yet convincing enough to make me suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride. They arrive in Dickensian quantities, too.

There's Siggi Stefansson, a Reykjavik art dealer with a craggy face. And Cy's trophy wife, Bianca Santiago, a best-selling romance novelist with "latte-cream skin". Jimmy's daddy-in-law, Caleb Digby Phelps III, is a Harvard man (and Porcellian Club member) who has become a big wheel in New England business.

As in 'Top Producer', Vonnegut uses alpha-dog patter to good effect, as in this warning from LeeWell's head trader:

"Just remember, Cusack. There are two kinds of people in the world. The ones who make money."

"And?"

"Oxygen thieves."

Despite a few flaws, the plot keeps you going.

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