ARC Review: The Silent Oligarch by Christopher Morgan Jones
Book: The Silent Oligarch
Author: Christopher Morgan Jones
Release: January 23, 2012
Source: Supplied by the Publisher
Purchase: – Barnes & Noble
Deep in the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources sits a nondescript bureaucrat named Konstantin Malin. He draws a nominal government salary but from his shabby office controls half the nation’s oil industry, making him one of the most wealthy and feared men in Russia. His public face is Richard Lock, a hapless money launderer bound to Malin by marriage, complacency, and greed. Lock takes the proceeds of his master’s corruption, washes them abroad, and invests them back in Russia in a secret business empire. He knows little about Malin’s true affairs, but still he knows too much.
Benjamin Webster is an investigator at a London corporate intelligence firm. Years before, as an idealistic young journalist in Russia, Webster saw a colleague murdered for asking too many hard questions of powerful people; her true killers have never been found. Hired to ruin Malin, Webster comes to realize that this shadowy figure might have ordered her gruesome death, and that this case may deliver the justice he has been seeking for a decade.
As Webster peels back the layers of Malin’s shell companies and criminal networks, Lock’s colleagues begin dying mysteriously, police around the world start to investigate, and Malin begins to question his trust in his increasingly exposed frontman. Suddenly Lock is running for his life- though from Malin or Webster, the law or his own past, he couldn’t say.
My dad says that since the end of the Cold War, two things will never be the same again: James Bond movies and espionage/suspense books. This has often been the truth – I mean lets face it, it’s hard to find a good villain in this day and age and without the east/west division Berlin has just become a rather boring place for drop-boxes.
Which is why I was very excited and intrigued when I received the opportunity to review The Silent Oligarch by Christopher Morgan Jones.
Jones introduces us to the world of post-Cold War Russia – where if you managed to move quickly enough after the fall of the Iron Curtain, you are now sitting pretty as a billionaire thanks to Russia’s natural resources. In our case – Oil.
We are also introduced to three main characters:
Konstantin Malin has reached the top position within the Ministry of Natural Resources – a simple government bureaucrat, no? Well, obviously not. In fact, thanks to his frontman Richard Lock he has been laundering oil money for years – investing and making money abroad and then bringing it right back into Russia.
Richard Lock, the money launderer who is the face for Malin’s many business interests, but he now feels that he is out of his depth – the ventures have just become too big. What started out as a great way to launder funds has now become a billion dollar industry he can’t seem to control.
Thanks to some shady dealings with another shady businessmen – the secrets these two men have been trying to hide might just be about to explode across the front pages of the international media.
Which is how we get to Benjamin Webster – in the days just before the end of the Cold War he was a young journalist trying to make a name for himself. An incident involving a young Russian colleague who was asking one too many questions led him to leave Russia behind. Now a corporate intelligence investigator, he is asked to expose Malin and Lock – and finds out there may be a connection between the events that led to his friend’s murder.
The Silent Oligarch is very much a character-centric book and together with the understated writing style it makes the reader feel as if we’re sitting in the room, on the sidelines watching as the story unfolds – it reminded me a lot of the John Le Care style of writing. Slowly building up the suspense and the drama to a masterful finish.
What I found to be extremely intriguing about The Silent Oligarch is that I was left constantly wondering who the ‘hero’ or protagonist of this book was. The POV changes every chapter or so between Webster and Lock so you get the sense that each of them, in a way, takes on that role. No black and white heroes and villains here – and it was in the grey areas that this book excels.
The POV changes also served to show the reader the similarities and contrasts between these two complex characters. In one chapter we see Webster with his family, the interactions with his wife and children. In the next chapter we see Lock realizing how much of his daughter’s life he has missed and what his relationship with his wife is like.
For both Webster and Lock the outcome of the Malin case will serve as a turning point and for each one there are moments when they wish they could just turn their back on it all and disappear.
Then there is the Silent Oligarch himself – Malin. Through Lock’s eyes we see a man of secrets and power, a man Lock looks up to, despises and fears all at the same time. As the book moves forward we learn more about his motives and how Lock came to become the man he is today.
I should add that there is another character that has a very important role in this book – Russia herself. I don’t know why I feel this way, but to me at least it appeared as if Russia wasn’t just a place where much of the plot took place, rather, Jones’ Russia was an actual presence throughout the book – a living breathing thing.
The Silent Oligarch is Jones’ début novel and I hope that it won’t be his last. Jones has a unique style and has written a brilliant tale of suspense – for the post-Cold War reader.