by Norb Vonnegut
Year published: 2009
Category: financial thriller; mystery
Grove O’Rourke, a top producer at a Wall Street investment firm, watches the gruesome murder of his best friend Charlie—along with hundreds of other horrified guests at his wife’s birthday party at the New England Aquarium. But everybody loved Charlie—who would want him dead? When Charlie’s widow turns to Grove with an unexpected request for financial help, Grove learns not everything he thought he knew about his friend was true. To save his dead friend’s reputation, an old woman’s retirement security, and ultimately himself, Grove has to follow the money. And there was a lot of it.
Top Producer is a mystery/thriller set in the wild world of Wall Street financial firms. Protagonist Grove O’Rourke has the most wonderful voice, a bit of noir detective meets “top producer” (someone who earns a whole lot of money moving other people’s assets around). Vonnegut (a distant relative of the more-famous Kurt) will introduce you to esoteric financial deals where millions are made and lost in minutes. You’ll read about monetary instruments, and yes, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) plays a role in the plot. But the great strength of this novel is the characters you’ll meet, and the frank, intelligent writing style. For example:
On a rival trader: “She ran all her words together without breathing. Every sentence became one long, extended word. Her syllables grew spontaneously like cancerous cells that kept splitting and splitting. It was impossible to interrupt her politely.”
On Wall Street’s locker-room vocabulary: “Two degrees from Harvard made no difference. I had sold out and become a word whore. A foul, f-ing, four-lettered lexicon marked me as a wizened veteran of the capital markets. Wall Street was one of the few places on earth where a severe case of Tourette’s syndrome might go unnoticed.”
If you pick this book up from a shelf and skim the first chapters, you’ll discover that the opening is one of the best.
Don’t read this book if: your entire retirement savings are invested in a boutique financial firm