arts & entertainment
June 22, 2012 Page 69
Book Review: The Last Trade What James Conway more than suggests in his debut financial cyber-terrorist thriller The Last Trade (Dutton) is that some of those who make a killing in the market may also be real killers – greedy, powerful egomaniacs or ideologues who have the means, money and sociopathic motive to execute not just shady trades but people. Conway (a pseudonym), a “hedge fund insider,” knows whereof he speaks, having spent years as a “global strategy director at a major advertising firm” with ties to the financial industry and technology companies. A frequent visitor to the Hamptons (his parents owned property for years in Westhampton Dunes), Conway writes in an email that the primary reason he is not using his real name is not because he wants “to hide or protect (his) identity,” but because he plans to write in different genres and wants to separate them for the reader. (Man Booker prize winner John Banvillehas said as much about the mysteries he pens under the name Benjamin Black.)
reliance on “stochastic calculus?” Lucky Drew. Plucked from a boring, back-office job at Citibank in Queens, he became the mathematical “advisor to a genuine master of the universe,” billionaire Rick Salvado, head of Rising Fund, whose mantra is “Be great or be gone.” The time is late fall 2011, three years after the financial meltdown that destroyed so many, but not Rick. He’s now America’s financial and media darling, bullish on his country – new tech, new media stocks – while secretly betting against them. He’s the Evil Genius of the book – smooth, manipulative, amoral. But his true behavior has not escaped the attention of Drew’s young assistant, Danny Weiss, who suspects what Rick is doing and starts sending Drew cryptic messages. In a funk, however, over how Rising Sun has consumed his life, destroyed his11:33 marriage and1 Dan's 1-2 Junior Jun15_BAY ST 6/15/12 AM Page hardly compensated for the untimely death of his
two-year old daughter from an allergy attack, Drew ignores the messages. Danny is murdered. But the game is on to understand Danny’s messages, particularly as the bodies of traders begin to pile up wherever shorts have been executed on behalf of a mysterious source in Berlin. Enter Cara Sobieski from the U.S. Department of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. And a host of secondary characters (new faces keep appearing as late as page 254 of this 395-page book), who, contrary to orders, do a little trading for themselves on the side. They’ll be sorry. Every day a different multi-million dollar trade, a different country, a certain death. But the imminence of some nasty Big Stuff ratchets up the pace. Will Drew and his helpful ex-wife and Cara figure it out in time, even after Drew finally catches on to Danny’s elliptical Homeric references? Will you look up “stochastic calculus?”
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By joan baum
My Brilliant Divorce
By Geraldine Aron Directed by Matt McGrath “Polly Draper gives an intimate and engaging performance.” – THE NEW YORK TIMES
BIG and TALL An evening with
Bruce Vilanch & Judy Gold Nonetheless, given all the hot news about malware, cyber viruses, international terrorism, not to mention ever-present conspiracy theories, Conway will surely be asked whom he had in mind as (composite) models for his malefactors, and whether or not he believes that there’s a covert war out there to take down the U.S. economy by gaming the system. In a printed Conversation about The Last Trade, Conway says his novel is not that far from recent history and current fears, citing the catastrophic 1,000-plus point drop of the U.S. market on May 6, 2010 and The Financial Times’s listing a “more lasting and damaging flash crash as one of the major concerns for 2012.” Then there’s the book’s epigraph by Warren Buffet: “Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction” It’s fun to see Hank Paulson and Jamie Dimon make cameo appearances, but timeliness and authenticity aside, the main question about The Last Trade is: does it work as coherent and entertaining narrative fiction? The answer is, for the most part, yes, though many of the characters, with the engaging exception of a federal female agent (“outside of romance, she’s not used to failure”), serve the plot in obvious ways; character reversals tend to be declared rather than emerge from the action; and some readers may pause at the argot, such as “stat-arb quant,” the description of the book’s hero Drew Havens, a data geek (“numbers are his affliction and his salvation”), though he’s no “bot” (robot). And how about his
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Dan's Papers June 22, 2012 Issue