We first meet Jason Stafford on his last day in federal prison after a two-year stretch for financial fraud (he never bilked clients, only the system -- or so we are told). Stafford, a former high-flying Wall Street trader, emerges trying to put some kind of life together. His first task is to reclaim his profoundly autistic five-year-old son who he calls "the Kid" from his drunken Southern-belle ex-wife.
Soon, Jason gets a call from the head of an investment firm asking him to look into a possible scam. The SEC is on the trail and the head of the firm wants to get ahead of the curve. Of course, what starts off looking like a small scandal quickly mushrooms into a big one. The FBI is involved -- and there's murder and the ex-wants the Kid back and there's a dash of romance with Wanda, a magician's assistant. It's a rich brew.
I couldn't begin to understand the details of the scam but I'm sure it all adds up given the author's expertise and personal experience in the field. What I did understand was that he has managed to craft a highly-enjoyable thriller that makes you care about the protagonist and the Kid and that ratchets up the tension to reach a satisfying conclusion.
The depiction of the autistic child and his father's touching relationship with him is one of the great strengths of his book. I also liked the fact that the hero is in fact more than a little immoral himself. He doesn't have much remorse for his original crime and he doesn't hesitate to try and steal a couple of hundred thousand dollars when he gets the chance -- and ultimately a lot more than that.
There are however some weaknesses too. The southern belle ex-wife is a caricature as are her new man and her Louisiana momma. In fact, pretty much all the secondary characters are very thinly drawn. Really the only characters that lived for me were Stafford and his son. But maybe that's enough in a book of this type. The obligatory romance the author felt he had to introduce is also tremendously unconvincing and entirely superfluous. The various subplots don't do much for the book except slow it down and pad it out.
The publisher has festooned this review copy with blurbs from fellow authors. Note to publisher: this reviewer is not impressed with blurbs. They actually predispose me to dislike a book. The blurb industry is highly corrupt as we all know. Everyone scratches the other guy's back. I blurb you and someday you will return the compliment.
This book -- every book -- must stand or fall on its merits. This is a very promising debut. I'm sure that Michael Sears will learn from the experience of writing it and get even better in his next effort. If, as promised, there is a sequel, I'm ready to read on.
on September 18, 2012
Jason Stafford has nothing. He was once a top Wall Street trader living the high life, but after a getting in over his head with falsified profits and fraudulent trades, he finds himself at the end of a two year jail sentence with no money, an estranged ex-wife who has his only son, and seemingly no future job opportunities. You can imagine his surprise when the CEO of a large Wall Street firm asks Jason to investigate the trades of a junior trader who recently died in a boating accident. Intrigued by the prospect to work in his old environment and desperate for any kind of income, Jason accepts.
As he begins to reclaim his professional dignity, Jason also is determined to gain custody from his alcoholic ex-wife. Jason Jr., nicknamed "the Kid", has been diagnosed with autism and is not getting the care he needs. With his ex just as unstable as his son, Jason is shocked to learn that the Kid is locked in a room all day. Risking his parole, Jason flies to Louisiana to retrieve his son. When he returns to New York, son in tow, Jason is forced to reevaluate his life, and learn to live with his unique son.
Meanwhile, Jason's investigation is revealing a larger conspiracy than he ever expected. As he digs deeper into the web of fraud, he attracts the attention of Wall Streets power players as well as agents from the FBI. When he uncovers a system that will certainly rock the entire financial institution, Jason must decide what to do with the information. If he makes the wrong decision, it could cost him his life.
With this excellent debut novel, author Michael Sears enters the thriller genre with a bang. His knowledge of Wall Street brings a unique perspective to the story. This timely tale of financial deceit flows at a perfect pace, never getting bogged down in the details that are presented. While the thriller side of the story is entertaining, it is the father-son relationship that really places the novel on a higher level. Jason's adjustment to becoming the guardian of his autistic son is the secret to this story's success. Sears subtly crafts the two characters, making the reader truly care about the son and root for the Father's redemption. I will admit that the secondary characters were not as strongly conceived as Jason and the Kid, but the focus on the two far outweighed the lack of development in the others. Overall, "Black Fridays" is a thriller with heart that I highly recommend.
on November 15, 2012
Yes, I liked Black Fridays, and three stars is a good rating for it. For me, the story was rather haphazard, and I did not think the autistic child added anything that really furthered the main story. It was interesting to learn more about autism, but I was looking to read a financial thriller. In that respect, the book didn't always work. The bad guys weren't very credible, again, for me. The scheme was not something I thought it likely that so many traders would have jumped on. Too many people knew about it,for one. The chances of getting caught went up with every participant. The FBI agents were virtually unbelievable as characters.
But I am not unhappy to see that many people liked it better than I did. I've read many financial thrillers, and I read over 100 novels a year. No Harriet here, but I just didn't get the thrill that so many others did, and that's okay. We won't always agree. I thought that Black Fridays rated in about the middle.
This is an entertaining and engaging first effort from an author who knows the trading side of "The Street". The subject matter shows the seamy side of Wall Street and strongly suggests that perhaps the taste of big money fosters even greater greed among those who consider themselves smarter than the average bear. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perspective)these smart guys always get caught (eventually) and usually are relieved to finally end the pressure they put themselves under. Regardless of the rules and procedures used where large volumes of big money are involved, there always seems to be someone smart enough to maneuver around the systems in place. What one man can create another is able to defeat.
I really enjoyed this book, both for the entertainment value and for the lessons on autism. Reading this novel helped me to better understand the rituals and triggers involved with this condition. The rapidly growing presence of this disorder means that just about everyone knows someone who has to deal with it. Previously cancer was the only disease that affected such a large part of the population. What are humans doing to this planet that causes such dramatic physical changes?
The writing it tight, the perspective unique, and the story downright entertaining. This effort is good enough to win literary awards for best first novel. I look forward to additional work from Michael Sears.
NOTE: MICHAEL SEARS RECEIVES BEST NEW P.I. NOVEL FROM SHAMUS AWARDS 9/20/2013
Black Fridays was a great discovery for me. I've read a lot of genre fiction over the years, and it's always tough to find new authors whose works measure up against writers like Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and James Lee Burke. Most thrillers follow the traditional arc of building tension up to a wild climax that strains one's abilities to suspend disbelief, but Sears -- like the best thriller/mystery writers -- infuses his work with enough realism and real-world consequences to make it a more satisfying read.
You don't have to be a financial markets maven to appreciate what's at stake in this novel. The action and tension will satisfy most thriller fans. What sets the novel apart for me, though, is that Sears captured several worlds -- prison, Wall Street and even Louisiana's Bayou -- with equal authenticity. I also loved the fact that his main character is a convicted former Wall Street trader whose life is a mess, and a mess that is not easily solved (especially with an autistic son to take care of following his release from prison). His protagonist is flawed, aware of that fact and fights for redemption in a way that is often surprising.
Smart, witty and insightful, with an intricate plot, Black Fridays is an excellent read. I'll be sure to check out Michael Sears' next book
on June 30, 2013
Anyone who has ever had bad advice from a broker can relate to this. They make commissions by pushing whatever they are selling. The value of securities may go up or down, but they get their commissions either way. When they get into trouble is when they invest for the firm's accounts. Jason Stafford did not intend to break the law, but he improved his firm's bottom line by post-dating tickets for losing trades in the firm's accounts - at first accidentally, but then deliberately. He was caught by the SEC and spent time in a federal prison cell reflecting on his sins. He is now barred from trading, but has a chance to earn some much needed money by investigating the activities of a trader who died in a boating accident. When you turn over rocks, you sometimes find things that people would prefer that you do not find.
There is an additional plot related to Jason's autistic son, nicknamed "Kid," and the plot comes from one of Kid's quirks, i.e., only wearing black on Fridays. Jason has major custody problems with his ex-wife, and major expenses for doctors and a private school that dictate some of his actions. As the plot develops, he discovers some major wrongdoing by employees in his client's firm. So, time for a deal - if federal agents have some help to offer with his problems, he might be able to help them with theirs, a quid pro quo. It is now without danger as some bodies start to pile up.
This is an intriguing look at how financial traders can skim money, and perhaps a unique way to make payoffs. You have to figure out for yourself who the winners and losers are from these schemes.
There is a side issue about how much you can trust your wife by putting assets in her name in order to "protect" them, and another issue about security - who is watching the watch dog, if you remember the old children's adage.
The author promises a sequel to this novel, so put it on your watch list.
For me to read two books in a row, that are rally good....well,it doesn't happen often. Michael Sears first Jason Stafford book, BLACK FRIDAY did it for me, Even a lot about stock and bond trading, I know nothing about and autism I know little there didn't hurt the reading and enhanced the storyline. Fresh out of prison, Stafford is offered a sweet job, but it places him in the lap of the FBI. The story is grrat and bekieveabl. Start THis Series, RECOMMENDED
on May 8, 2013
I really liked this book. It was a common formula about a formerly successful man who becomes an ex-con because he committed a white collar crime. However, there the formula ended. The author was very knowledgeable about the trading industry (perhaps he was employed in that field at one time?) so I enjoyed the reality of the situations which drove the plot. This flawed, but basically decent man, tries to step up to the plate in the father area. Again, formulaic, but not when the child is a special needs child with autism. Really, really well done. I highly recommend this book and look forward to more work from Michael Sears.
This book revolves around a former Wall Street wunderkind ex-con [for fraud] who is hired by a financial firm to check its trading history because the SEC is threatening an investigation. At the same time he is attempting to forge a relationship with his young autistic son whom he has rescued from his beautiful but irresponsible ex-wife. In trying to balance these two narratives the author does manage to intertwine them at a key moment, but all the same it seems he has tried to create the perfect him/her story- a mystery for the men, a nurturing tale of parenthood for the women, and as a result he has created a hybrid that neither will find satisfying.
As an ex-bond trader I found his depiction of the industry accurate and even interesting, though I can't see how someone unfamiliar with the business will truly follow that thread of the story, which eventually leads to a massive trading scam and murder [given Wall Street's popularity, I guess most people will just accept the sleazy story line and not dwell on the details]. However, for me, the specifics of the crime are unrealistic, while the amounts involved, while huge for the ordinary guy, are rounding errors for these kind of companies. For most of the book, the only action is between the main character and his ex's new boyfriend, giving you some idea of the slow pace of the story telling. Towards the end the book does speed up, but I still found myself saying- is that it?
The large portion of the story dedicated to the family dynamic between father and son was, for me, boring. Perhaps I am just not a sensitive soul, but the indepth look presented here of an autistic child just didn't hold my interest. I realize that women make up the majority of fiction readers, and that male novelists have begun trying to imbue their characters with an emotional depth that will appeal to the feminine, but I prefer my thrillers/ mysteries to be, well, thrilling and mysterious, and less to do with getting in touch with your nurturing side. I am sure to be labeled a misogynist by some, but I am man enough to take it.
While the book is too wordy and slow, and somewhat repetitious, the author shows promise with his characters, who, while two dimensional for the most part, occasionally hinted at something more. The dialogue also showed some promise, though it was predominantly predictable and even a little cliched. And one note: there were a few comments I considered of a political nature, and they were for the most part anti-Republican or right-wing. While any author has the right to express his beliefs, being a Conservative these occasional digs irritated me.
For a first effort, I've read worse, and it is a quick read too. But there are far better financial thrillers out there. As for the autistic child story, well I imagine there are better examples of that, too, though I wouldn't know since that is not something I really read about. This is one of those numerous novels that are churned out and which floods the choices available to readers; whether you choose to read it is really a function of how much time you have. To pick this one up you will have to have alot of free time- probably more than most of us can waste.
on June 9, 2013
For me, a book is either really good from the get go or it isn't. This one is. Great combo of the inter-workings of the Wall Street scams and scum and the compassion of the human spirit. I know. I too thought these were mutually exclusive. Got so caught up in this book last night that next thing I knew, I woke up on the couch at 4 a.m. Were this not Sunday night, I'd do it all again.