July 18, 2013


Clawback. By Mike Cooper. Penguin. $15.

Full Ratchet. By Mike Cooper. Viking. $27.95.

     Tough talk, tough action, off-the-grid living, hard-boiled tactics – all the ingredients of typical thrillers are to be found in these two books by Mike Cooper (pen name of Michael Wiecek, who apparently wanted something more slam-bang for these works than for his short stories and Exit Strategy). Suspend all your disbelief and climb aboard for thrill rides riddled not only with bullets but also with Wall Street jargon, and you will thoroughly enjoy these nonsensical, fast-paced, self-proclaimed “Silas Cade Thrillers,” Cade being the protagonist in an unlikely mixture of high finance, low shenanigans and plenty of rough stuff and gunplay.

     It is all utterly ridiculous, but approach it as a fantasy with bits of wish fulfillment for those who still relish the idea of “taking out” the high-and-mighty of Wall Street, and you will have a great deal of fun. Both Clawback, published last year and now available in paperback, and the new Full Ratchet give readers plenty of opportunities to identify with Cade, imagine him as a movie hero (it would be surprising if he doesn’t become one), and laugh or at least smile along with scenes such as the one in Clawback that combines fighting, a chase and the inevitable helicopter. It’s fun, it’s formulaic as it can be, and it’s filled with enough financial jargon to give you a headache if you don’t care for monetary matters – or give the whole thing a thin veneer of plausible authenticity if you do care about them.

     Clawbacks have become newsy in recent years as attempts to recover money from executives whose deals later went bad. That is part of what the title of the first book refers to, but of course there is more to it than that: someone is bumping off big-money money managers whose hedge funds are disintegrating, and Cade is hired by one investment banker to find out why several very unsuccessful money manipulators are being killed. Cade’s a fixer of sorts, kind of on the wrong side of the law or just barely on the right side of it – a character type long-established in the detective and thriller genres but given some new wrinkles here. His determination to live off the grid is one of those – and his difficulty at doing so is one of these books’ more interesting elements. However, the new wrinkles bring new absurdities with them: Cade uses throwaway cell phones by the dozen to get in touch with people, but how do people get in touch with him, since he disposes of each phone after one use? Cade’s own explanation is unconvincing – and besides, since he buys the throwaway phones in big batches in a single transaction, wouldn’t that come quickly to the attention of, say, law-enforcement types looking for, say, drug dealers? Think about it – or don’t; too much thinking is anathema here.

     Then there is Clara Dawson, the smart and savvy woman (you know what type is typecast for the role), here not a journalist but a would-be journalist and, wouldn’t you know it, a blogger – who is such a good investigator that she makes connections that no one else can find, thereby getting involved in the Clawback case and, inevitably, in Cade’s life. They actually make a good team and have some better-than-the-usual-banter interactions, plus some real chemistry – this relationship is above average for a genre book like this. But it is not the main point, of course. That main point involves a lot of action, a certain amount of mystery (the solution to which is actually pretty fair), tension both romantic and of the courting-danger variety, and a certain degree of paranoia (some of Cade’s actions to stay off the grid really are overdone, such as using stolen credit cards to rent cars and then changing the cars’ license plates before leaving the lot).

     Clawback was always planned to start a series – that was clear when Cade’s long-lost brother, Dave, was introduced early in the book and summarily ignored thereafter, surely having been destined to be a recurring subsidiary character. Full Ratchet is the series’ second book, and it changes the venue from Wall Street to Main Street while not changing Cade’s modus operandi at all. Cade is an experienced auditor – did that somehow go unmentioned? – and is using his green-eyeshade skills for a friend when he discovers, shockingly to everybody except every single reader, that the entire manufacturing company he is auditing is corrupt to the core. And there just happen to be Russian Mafiosi involved, and a very attractive blonde femme fatale (very fatale) named Harmony (!!), and yes, wonder of wonders, Dave gets pulled into Cade’s latest caper. And there is eventually a showdown around a boardroom table in which a hostile takeover is consummated through careful deal structure.  Ha!  Just kidding!!  Of course the actual showdown involves blazing guns, a super-wealthy bad guy, mercenaries, a wholly unsurprising (but exciting) driving scene, armored assaults and various gun battles, and the inevitable James Bondian attraction between bad-boy good guy and girl – sorry, woman – who maybe isn’t as bad as all that, unless she is.

     Take none of this with an iota of seriousness, assiduously avoid looking for plot holes, pretend that the financial jargon is meaningful in this context, and just go along for the thrill ride (several of them, actually), and you will find these two Silas Cade novels fast-paced, periodically funny, easy to read and generally enjoyable. Ignore that little whisper telling you that they are so formulaic that you must have seen every element of them somewhere else in the past. So what? These are not great literature, nor are meant to be. In case you were wondering, that’s a deliberate garbling of a line from a poem by a guy called T.S. Eliot, referring to a play called Hamlet, by some character called William Shakespeare. In case you were wondering. Yeah, the whole Silas Cade thing doesn’t just take place in a waste land – it is a waste land. But look what you get for the price of admission: an adrenalin-pumping way to waste (or at least spend) some time finding out how Cade wastes (or brings to justice) some of the super-rich folks that it has become fashionable to hate, if not, in the real world, to waste.

No comments:

Post a Comment