I tend to avoid reading thrillers, but there’s the consideration that thrillers cross over into the crime genre, and that is definitely true with the novels of Irish author Alan Glynn–an author who takes the term ‘conspiracy theory’ out of the trash can and makes you rethink the headlines that quickly fade and the scandals that sink from view. I first came across Glynn through the film Limitless which was based on his first novel, The Dark Fields. Somehow all that skullduggery in the dirty pharmaceutical industry fascinated me–well I believe that some very ugly business goes on in the R&D departments of the pharmaceutical giants. Just hang out on Cafepharma sometime and amuse yourself by watching the mudslinging.
Alan Glynn’s latest novel, Graveland brings back some repeat characters from Bloodland, but it isn’t necessary to have read the earlier novel before reading Graveland. Journalist Ellen Dorsey, who appeared in Bloodland, is a central character here, and Jimmy Gilroy who was a main character in Graveland has a small role. The shady background figure, James Vaughan, Chairman of the Oberon capital Group also appears in both novels.
Graveland begins with the seemingly random murders of two billionaires: one a CEO of an investment bank, a “Wall Street behemoth, one of the Too Big To Fail brigade” and the other man is “Exponential Bob,” manager of a Wall Street hedge fund. With the first murder, investigative journalist, Ellen, who works for the fading investigative magazine Parallax, senses that there’s more to the story, and when the second murder occurs, she’s convinced she’s on the trail of something big. While the police seem to have no clues, Ellen begins digging deeply into internet forums, and there she comes across some possible pointers that become all too real.
We are also introduced to middle-aged Frank Bishop, a bitterly unhappy one-time architect. Cut loose from his profession, now post-boom, he’s lucky to find himself as a poorly paid manager in a small shop in a dying “suburban mall in upstate New York.” Frank knows that he should appreciate the job, but he finds it galling to continually bow and scrape to his customers and his much younger boss.
At forty-eight, and in the current climate, he could just as easily have landed on the scrap heap. There are days when this certainly feels like the scrap heap, but most of the time he just gets on with it.
He has bills to pay.
It’s as simple as that, his life is reduced to a monthly sequence of electronic bank transfers. College fees, allowances, rent, utilities, car food. Fuck.
Close his eyes for a minute and Frank can be right back before any of this got started, twenty-five, thirty years ago–a different world, and one in which this degree of a financial straitjacket was something he only ever associated with his parents, with that whole generation.
While Ellen investigates the two billionaire murders, another story thread follows Frank Bishop as he trips into meltdown mode. There’s also Craig Howley, the man who’s “number two” at Oberon Capital. Howley is subordinate to 84 year-old Chairman James Vaughan. Howley is hungry to take over the role of Chairman and thinks a lot about how much longer, Vaughan, on his sixth plastic wife, can last. But Howley has to check his ambition:
Because with Jimmy Vaughan you don’t ever ever assume anything. You just keep watching, making connections, cutting deals, bringing it home.
The good news for Howley, and the bad news for Vaughan is that the latter’s health finally seems to be failing. Maybe. One day, he looks like he’s headed for the coffin, but the next he’s ready to work a strenuous day. Howley can’t make sense of it.
Glynn novels are all about connections, and the first few pages introduce a lot of characters. It’s not easy at this point to keep them straight or to work out which ones are important and which ones are insignificant. It was the same with Bloodland. But after a few chapters, you’re in and turning pages. Glynn’s presentation of distinctly separate but connected worlds follows what I call the Brazil Model. You’ve got the Favelas on ground zero and then all the way up to the dizzying heights of the super-wealthy–the people who always pursue more money, and aren’t too fussy about how they get it. Glynn’s novels illustrate that while these worlds are separate, they connect in unseen ways, and it’s these invisible connections that fuel this author’s work.
Bloodland, partially set in the Congo was a very exciting book. Graveland lacks that pacing, but it’s still a good thriller and its portrayal of the mostly invisible (to us plebs) powermongers, those who compose the 1%, is piercing and prescient.