Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Silent Oligarch, by Chris Morgan Jones

The Penguin Press, 2012
312 pp.

The Silent Oligarch is Chris Morgan Jones' first novel, and it's a good one. While I'm generally not a huge fan of books in the thriller genre, I actually couldn't put this one down.   The author's firsthand experience in the intelligence-gathering industry lends a great deal of credence to the story he offers his readers, and he leaves behind the usual clich├ęs found in many novels in the genre.

Former journalist Ben Webster works as investigator for Ikertu, a private firm that specializes in gathering intelligence for those who can pay for it.  The company's newest client is one Aristotle Tourna, whose goal is to bring down the corrupt Russian energy oligarch Konstantin Malin, "the power behind the throne at the energy ministry," ... "the silent oligarch" and "gray cardinal of the Kremlin."  Tourna is accusing him of global money laundering via a corporation known as Faringdon, which owns most of the assets. On paper, the owner of the corporation is Richard Lock, attorney and front man for Malin, but Tourna is alleging that Malin is the actual owner, which just happens to be true. But Lock and Malin operate in a world where there are carefully-built layers of secrets and zealously-guarded fictions, putting Lock in a tenuous spot: in this world, the two men "cannot divorce." It is Lock who will ultimately have to answer when Tourna brings his case to the courts. 

Webster realizes that Lock is the key to getting to Malin, that bringing him in and turning him will produce needed results.  But when Lock's carefully-built fictional affairs start receiving unwanted attention, and after various law-enforcement agencies start to take an interest,  Lock starts getting nervous. When a former colleague is found dead, Lock begins to unravel.   Webster tries to convince him that he and Ikertu may be Lock's only hope, but Lock doesn't know if there is anyone he can trust. Webster is not without his own battles in this particular case -- his family is being threatened, he may have discovered a link between this current case and the death of a friend ten years earlier, and people are starting to die after he asks them pertinent questions. He begins to question how much longer he can go on with the investigation, or if he is really the right man for the job.

There are a number of very good things about this novel to recommend it. First,the  author has done a good job with his characters, most notably that of Lock.  While a bit on the naive side, deep down inside he knows he's not hard enough to survive in the world he's working in. He's a credible character who finds himself in way over his head, not always making the smartest decisions, but as the story progresses, so too does Lock's desire to make a break and try to regain his own identity. Webster, on the other hand, is not as nicely filled in as Lock, which is a bit surprising, considering that the author once played a role similar to Ben's.  The prose is approachable, intelligent and never overdone, and while there's always enough suspense to keep the reader engaged, the author doesn't have to result to general thriller gimmicks to move the story along. But what really stands out in this book is the idea  that life is not actually divided into black and white, but rather that the world moves in patches of muddled grays.  As Lock notes at one point: 

  "So Malin's bent. So what? ... Everyone's bent.  Tourna's bent, Jesus. He's worse. And all those blue-chip companies, you think they haven't got someone like me to hide things, help them avoid tax? They've got legions of them. I'm just one man." ... "Ben, we both work for crooks. We play our parts, and that's it. And if we didn't someone else would. That's the world."

The Silent Oligarch
is a good read, with enough action to make thriller readers happy, while at the same time offering less "pulse-pounding"-oriented readers a glimpse into how things work behind the scenes of the world's richest players.  It's an eye-opening story as well. I never knew that organizations like the fictional Ikertu existed, but when I received the book, it came with  article from the New Yorker (you can read the abstract here ) profiling Jules Kroll, head of the real-life organization for which Chris Morgan Jones used to work.  Definitely recommended. 

My thanks to TLC Blog Tours, and to the publisher for sending me a copy of the novel. 

You can find other tour hosts and reviews for Silent Oligarch here


  1. So much of life IS in the grey zone, so I really like when books take that into account and don't make things simply black/white, good/evil. This definitely sounds like my kind of book!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

    1. You're welcome, and thanks for your comment. I agree with you about life and gray zones -- and I also appreciate authors who make this clear through their writing.


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