Fabulous Fiction Firsts #311

When it comes to thrillers, I am a hard one to please. But Chris Morgan Jones's debut The Silent Oligarch * * * really hits the mark.

First published in Britain as An Agent of Deceit, this financial puzzler zigzags across datelines, geography and glittery lifestyles, global politics and ruthless business schemes, base instincts and noble courage as an intelligence agent pursues a money launderer to expose the dealings of a shadowy Russian oligarch.

It is not clear how a minor government bureaucrat like Konstantin Malin could control half of Russia's oil industry, command a vast fortune and absolute fear from those he deals with, including Richard Lock, a hapless money launderer bound to Malin by marriage, complacency, and greed. Benjamin Webster intends to find out.

A journalist turned corporate espionage investigator, Webster is hired by a swindled financier to ruin Malin. A more personal motivation might be to settle the score for the gruesome death of a colleague years ago in a remote Kazakh jail.

As Webster's investigation closes in on Malin's game and Lock's colleagues begin dying mysteriously, he goes on the run.

"With a mysterious, complex plot and terrific local color, this novel resonates to the pounding heartbeats of the boldly drawn main characters. John Le Carre, Martin Cruz Smith, and Brent Ghelfi will be inching over in the book display so readers in search of erudite, elegant international intrigue can spot the newcomer."

~ "smart first novel, a taut thriller"

* * * = Starred reviews