In his first novel, the author takes advantage of his background on Wall Street to craft a mystery/thriller, his protagonist brought suddenly to earth when his gambling debt exceeds his ability to pay.
George Wilhelm enjoys a unique position in the futures market, manning the Emerging Markets desk at City Trust Bank in New York. A recent college graduate, George enjoys the perks of a phenomenon, his finger on the pulse of the market: “This is Wall Street, not Sesame Street. You snooze, you lose!”
Gambling has come as easily to George as success, until his luck runs out and he learns a harsh lesson: bookies want their money now; they don’t wait patiently for payday. At this point, Wall Street meets the mean streets. Wilhelm’s first wakeup call is the visit of two street thugs who inform George that they have bought out his contract and want their money. To make the point, they take him along as they deliver street justice to another recalcitrant customer.
Since Wilhelm can barely make the weekly vig of $25,000, he quickly realizes a master plan is in order. To that end, George takes on a partner, another trader from his circle of friends, and comes up with a scheme to defraud one of his investment accounts, finessing the market trade on a timeline that will allow him to take what he needs without getting caught.
Assuming he is smart enough to outwit the boss and coworkers who monitor his trades, Wilhelm goes out on a limb but doesn’t feel he has any choice. Of course, there are complications. Planning an extended weekend to the Bahamas to cover his tracks, George must also fool his fiancée, who has noticed that he hasn’t been as attentive as usual. Juggling relationship, work and impending bodily harm, George throws himself into the plan, refining the details but worrying about the honesty of his partner and the two men breathing down his neck.
In an increasing panic, George finds himself in the company of those of questionable repute from Miami to the Bahamas, desperate to escape his compromising circumstances and go back to a normal life. The risk is significant, in his relationship, in his career and potentially, his life.
For stock aficionados, the novel may be more enticing, for the discussion of the market and the fine art of futures trading as well as George’s clever manipulation of the numbers. However, the plot bogs down in an excess of stereotypes and an unlikely and unlikable group of characters. One is never sure if Wilhelm is a genius or a fool. Although the author attempts a bit of American Psycho gallows humor at the end, the whole is uneven, the brutality of George’s choices an uncomfortable match with his levity. (A caveat: you can’t ignore Bernard’s generosity; proceeds from the sale of Wall and Mean go to Autism Speaks and Safe Minds.)