Mortal Bonds (a Jason Stafford Novel)
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Mortal Bonds is the second novel based around Jason Stafford, a former Wall Street trader who got caught up in the recent machinations of the financial industry. If the first book, Black Friday, is as good as this second one, I may have to go back and read up from where the story first started.
That’s not necessary, though, to enjoy Mortal Bonds. Author Michael Sears is able to seamlessly catch readers up on Jason Stafford’s back story: recently released from two years in prison for his part in the Wall Street fiasco, he has returned to continued screechings from his bitchy ex (a former model that still carries around more than her share of baggage), full custody of their six year old son (referred to as the Kid, who is to the far side of moderately autistic), and thankfully a healthy relationship with a woman who is willing to give him a second chance.
Jason is trying to put his past behind him, but Wall Street and financial maneuverings is what he knows. So he takes the knowledge he has gained, both outside and inside of prison, coupled with the contacts he has made and the relationships that weathered the legal purge, and put word out on the streets that he was for hire as a financial consultant.
Almost immediately he is contacted by the von Becker family, scions of disgraced Ponzi scheme backed billionaire William von Becker, who supposedly committed suicide while in prison for defrauding billions out of friends and foes alike. It seems a healthy amount of cash has gone missing, and neither the family nor the authorities can locate even a minute trail of where the money is stashed. Eldest son Virgil von Becker just wants to put all the controversy to rest and start rebuilding the family name (or so he says) whereas the feds just want to recoup as much as they can of the squandered billions for restitution. So Jason is hired, with a very healthy financial incentive, to dig up what has eluded everyone thus far: the missing billions.
It’s not long before it becomes apparent that it’s not just the family and the feds who are looking for the money; there are other interests at play here who are less than savory. The deeper Jason digs, the more dangerous his task becomes. He’s never been one to shy away from a challenge, but when the powers that want-to-be threaten not just his investigation but those he loves as well, the game turns into something far more than the shock waves of a rich man’s scheming. It becomes personal – and the fallout becomes deadly.
Michael Sears does a masterful job both in creating a character that balances business savvy with very human cares and concerns, and in guiding us, the reader, through the quagmire of the financial landscape, explicating the story without lecturing or pandering. That’s not surprising, seeing that Sears made his living on Wall Street for over 20 years as a bond trader, underwriter and managing director at two major financial institutions before turning his talents to writing and the arts. On his website, he states, “The temptations that Jason succumbs to, and that drag down other characters in the book, are well known to me,” and that insight shows.
Jason Stafford is knowledgeable, smart, battle tested and slick, but he’s seen the promised land and decided that the price of its passage is too steep. Instead, he’s vowed to focus on being the best father he can be for his autistic son, as well as regaining whatever positive rep he can for doing the right thing. This doesn’t mean that he’s planning on moving to the wilderness to become an organic farmer – his area of expertise is finance and he’s not about to turn his back on that – but he’s determined to not get pulled into the dreams of avarice that seem to derail so many people, both on a grand scale and by those quite a bit more humble.
The action moves at a good clip, too. Bouncing between the personal and the professional, from pulling at lessons from the past and moving boldly into the future, Jason certainly has an interesting life. He is smart alecky enough to make us snicker occasionally, but he also is not a know-it-all; he sometimes is guessing along with us when everything seems to lead to a dead end.
There is a certain element of the right thing happening at just the right time, or for things to fall into place at the last moment, that smacks of a bit of good old Hollywood timing, but not enough for the action to feel campy. And it sometimes can ring hollow to those of us of limited means when millions are tossed off like chump change, but in the environment of Mortal Bonds that just the way the champagne pours. In the end, we modest folk sleep sounder at night than most of the wheelers and dealers in Sears’ book.
All in all, this a very well crafted, very engaging read. There were times that I was so caught up in the action that I could feel my pulse racing along with the words on the page – something that doesn’t happen all that often. I really cared for not only Jason, but many of the characters in this book. The threat that loomed felt genuine and the conclusion believable -and smart, and satisfying. When I was taken by surprise it was due to meticulous planning coming to fruition rather than unseen factors saving the day, which I truly appreciated.
When and if a third Jason Stafford volume is released, I’ll be in line to see what’s up next for Jason and the Kid, because I’m pretty darned sure whatever the situation, it will be a fun ride.